2018-04-19 / Life in Leelanau

Elmwood moves ahead on ‘special events’ zoning

By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

New rules for “special events” at wineries and on other agriculturally-zoned properties will be the subject of a public hearing at next month’s Elmwood Township Board meeting.

The topic has been fraught with controversy in Elmwood Township for several years. Last year, the issue resulted in a gaping hole remaining in the township Zoning Ordinance finally adopted in 2017 after more than a decade of effort.

Most of the controversy stems from an ongoing neighborhood dispute in the northwestern corner of the township along Lakeview Road. The owner of Noverr Farm on the east side of the road has been hosting special events such as wedding receptions on his property, causing neighbors to complain about noise and increased traffic. Two court cases related to the dispute are ongoing.

At its regular monthly meeting last week, the board reviewed the latest version of a zoning ordinance amendment spelling out conditions for special events on agricultural properties. The township’s Planning Commission turned the issue over to the Township Board for a decision last year. The draft amendment has undergone several revisions since then.

During a public comment opportunity at last week’s Township Board meeting, an attorney for property owner Frank Noverr called the latest proposal an improvement over earlier versions. But he also expressed concern that setback requirements contained in the latest draft were “not germane.”

Township Board members disagreed, however, noting that the new Zoning Ordinance language deliberately gives township planners flexibility in determining the length of large setbacks for various structures and neighboring structures based on topography of the land.

Because the draft amendment has changed substantially from earlier versions, another public hearing will be required before the Township Board considers adopting the amendment. The Township Board voted 7-0 at its meeting last week to hold the public hearing and consider the amendment for adoption at its next regular monthly meeting, May 14.

In other planning and zoning business, the Elmwood Township Board also authorized the township Planning Commission to spend $1,467 to mail out a survey asking residents how they feel about commercial development along M-72.

Specifically, the survey asks how residents feel about the area between Bugai and Harry’s roads. Terry Lautner, a trustee on the Township Board who lives in the survey area, has proposed building a gas station and convenience store on his agricultural property. In addition, more utility scale solar energy arrays have been proposed for the same area.

According to township planner and zoning administrator Sara Kopriva, the Planning Commission wants to conduct the mail survey because not enough comments were gathered during a series of open houses and information sessions on the topic earlier this year.

The Township Board voted 6-1 to fund the survey, with Lautner casting the “no” vote. Earlier in the meeting, Lautner wondered aloud whether he had a “conflict of interest” in voting on the issue but decided he did not.

Asked why he voted “no,” Lautner said he believes the Planning Commission “didn’t get enough complaints” about the proposed gas station and convenience store on his property during public input sessions and was “just trying to cover (themselves).”

Some 2,640 surveys were to be mailed out to Elmwood Township residents who are being asked to return the completed survey to the Township Hall by May 11. A return envelope was provided with the survey, but without postage.

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