2018-04-26 / Front Page

Zoning omission allows barns all over

By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff


THIS POLE barn, 4,000-square-feet in size, is at the heart of a lawsuit against Glen Arbor Township and an amendment to the zoning ordinance to be considered by the Planning Commission next Thursday. THIS POLE barn, 4,000-square-feet in size, is at the heart of a lawsuit against Glen Arbor Township and an amendment to the zoning ordinance to be considered by the Planning Commission next Thursday. An omission made years ago in a zoning update has paved the way for construction of hundreds of “accessory” buildings in Glen Arbor Township, including a 4,000 square foot pole barn built in a residential area overlooking little Glen Lake.

The Glen Arbor Township Planning Commission hopes to address concerns over the growing number of outbuildings at a meeting next week.

But changes in current zoning may not address concerns about construction of the pole building that caused a township property owner to file a lawsuit and plead for help from the township.

The Township Planning Commission will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. next Thursday, May 3, to consider an amendment aimed at clarifying an ordinance that has landed the township in Circuit Court.

Dana Roman Cowell filed suit in 13th Circuit Court in July 2016 when a neighboring property owner secured a land use permit for a 4,000 square-foot pole building adjacent to property she owns with her former husband, Lance Roman, at 7101 S. Dune Hwy.

The property, zoned Residential 2, is located on the western shore of little Glen Lake, just south of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Dune Climb.

Cowell appealed the land use permit issuance, but in September 2016 the township Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) denied the request.

“Nearly 100 percent of the ZBA expressed their sympathy with me but said that their hands were tied and that the ordinance allowed the structure,” Cowell said.

The problem appears to be rooted in an unintended omission from the Zoning Ordinance.

“It got changed in the past in a way that was not intended,” township supervisor Peter VanNort said. “There was a major revision of the Zoning Ordinance and somehow in that process, a mistake was made that wasn’t caught.”

That mistake allowed Cowell’s neighboring property owner Vaughn Dietzel to secure a land use permit to construct a 40-by-100-foot pole barn.

After Cowell’s appeal to the ZBA failed, she filed suit in Circuit Court against Glen Arbor Township.

According to court documents, “accessory buildings” were last regulated in the township’s residential district in 1991.

But something fell through the cracks during the update. As a result anywhere from 144 to 175 “accessory buildings” have been constructed in the township in the 27 years since.

Even winning in court may not be enough for Cowell to prevail. Circuit Court Thomas G. Power has twice ordered the township to fix the ordinance by clarifying its intent toward accessory buildings.

Next week’s public hearing is an attempt by the township to do just that.

The township is working to amend its ordinance to define “accessory buildings” as tool houses, garden houses, hobby or craft buildings among others. It also states that such uses would be allowed in the residential zoning districts.

If adopted, non-conforming “accessory structures” would become legal.

“They discovered a glitch in the ordinance,” said Dietzel in a phone interview yesterday. “The buildings are deemed to be illegal. This will rectify that.”

For her part, Cowell said she doesn’t have problem with accessory buildings in the residential district — just those as big as Dietzel’s.

The pole building is more than three times larger than the 1,300 square-feet residence on the parcel, according to Cowell.

“If the township adopts an amendment which allows accessory buildings with no size constraints, the Dietzel structure would become lawful,” she said.

The amendment will be considered for recommendation by the Township Board next week after which it will get a second review by the county Planning Commission.

Final action to adopt the amendment lies with the Township Board.

Cowell’s recourse would be to seek a referendum on the amendment.

“I’m a concerned citizen with deep ties to the community trying to force the township to do what is right,” she said.

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