January 2007 News
Residents oppose Mt. Bohemia rezoning requests at hearing
By Michele Anderson
MOHAWK -- A public hearing on requests for zoning changes in Keweenaw County drew a crowd of nearly 50 to the Mohawk School on Jan. 16, as the Keweenaw County Planning Commission endeavored to update the County Zoning Map to correspond to the new proposed Keweenaw County
zoning ordinance. The Keweenaw County Board of Commissioners is expected to approve the new proposed ordinance at their
Feb. 14, 2007, meeting.
The Keweenaw County Planning Commission intends to make a decision on the requests for
rezoning at their regular monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 30, in the Courthouse in Eagle River.
New state laws required that the 1975 Zoning Ordinance be updated, and the Planning Commission (formerly the Keweenaw County Zoning/Planning Commission) worked for three years to update the ordinance with the assistance of Michigan's foremost expert on zoning issues,
Mark Wyckoff of Planning and Zoning Center, Inc., Lansing. Wyckoff's work for
the County was funded through a $39,500 grant from the Coastal Zone Management Program of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).
While the public hearing concerned five different zoning change requests for
various parcels in the County, most of the discussion and public comment was devoted to a controversy surrounding a request by Black Bear, Inc., for rezoning part of the Mt. Bohemia property near Lac La Belle, described as "parcels in T58N R29W section 33 (to be changed) from RR (Resort Residential) to RS (Resort Service)."
The new draft ordinance divides Resort Service into two categories: RS 1, which requires a 50 ft. lot width and 50 ft. setback from the lake, and RS 2, which requires a 100 ft. lot width and a 75 ft. lake setback. The Planning Commission made part of the Mt. Bohemia property, formerly zoned RS, to be RS 2 and designated the smaller lots near the Mendota Plat
(another part of the Mt. Bohemia property) as
RS 1 on the new zoning map.
|At the Jan. 16 public meeting in the Mohawk School,
Jon Soper, Keweenaw County Planning Commission chairman, explains a map
including Black Bear's requests for rezoning in sections 32 and 33,
including parcels to the east of the historic Mendota Plat of 1865,
parcels along Sand Point Road and a strip north of the Bete Grise Road,
where some Mt. Bohemia ski runs now end. Roads are in red on the map.
(Photo © 2007 Michele Anderson)
"That was an arbitrary decision on the part of the Zoning Commission to make those lots that size," explained Jon
Soper, Planning Commission chairman.*
Lac La Belle resident Barbara Battersby said, "I'm confused with 'arbitrary.' Could you differentiate between what Zoning Board was looking for and what Black Bear was looking for?"
Soper explained that Black Bear's request was to change an area east of the Mendota Plat (now zoned RS 2) and an area west of Sand Point Road (now zoned RR) to RS 1 and a parcel which is north of the Bete Grise Road (now also RR) to RS 2.
Battersby also asked if Black Bear could explain "why" they are requesting the zoning changes.
In his Oct. 13, 2006 letter to the Keweenaw County Planning Commissioners, Frank Ellias, attorney for Black Bear, noted that the RS 2 designation, with a 100 ft. lot width requirement, would be inconsistent with the previously approved, much
smaller lot size for the Village of Mendota; would increase the cost of the lots; and would create a barrier to development and discourage affordable cabins.
At the Jan. 16 public hearing, Lonie Glieberman, Black Bear president, said, "By going to RS 2, we're actually losing density, so what we're requesting here (a change to RS 1) is to keep the current density we had in the (old) RS district."
New development plans include community sewer
According to John Kirk of U.P. Engineers and Architects, project architect for Black Bear, a part of Section 33 is needed for a drainfield to accommodate a community septic system for future development in the area.
"We're only talking, with a density of RS 1, of adding 30 additional homes to that whole entire area (in Section 32) -- a logical progression in our eyes of that area with what limited space we have, once a drainfield which is over two acres in size is constructed," Kirk said.
He pointed out the location of present drainfields for the Mt. Bohemia Ski Hill (now called the Mt. Bohemia Ski Resort) in this same area, in Section 33.
|At the Jan. 16 public hearing, John Kirk of U.P.
Engineers and Architects, project architect for Black Bear, holds a map
showing the Mendota Plat and areas of proposed development for the Mt.
Bohemia Ski Resort. Pictured in the foreground, from left, are Keweenaw
County Commissioners Al Gunnari, Don Keith (newly appointed chair) and
Joe Langdon. (Photo © 2007 Michele Anderson)
When Chuck Brumleve of Mohawk asked Lonie Glieberman, president of Black Bear, about the plans for sewers in this area, Glieberman indicated that the drainfield that was built for the ski hill was only running at about 40 percent of its capacity and that he could add condos (or other types of lodging) to this existing system and stay below his system capacity, now permitted by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).
Brumleve, a geologist, noted there was considerable concern about the existing system in Section 33 before it went
"The drainfield is located near Lac La Belle and only several feet above the water table," Brunleve said. "Groundwater flow direction is from the drainfield location toward the lake. Nutrients in the sewer system effluent will leach through the soil, into the groundwater below and travel to the lake. These nutrients can fuel the growth of aquatic plants. Many lakes in the lower peninsula are choked with algae and seaweed of various sorts due to shoreline development that relies on sewage disposal through drainfields.
"As far as the zoning request, we just need to make sure the Board (Planning Commission) realizes that there are already many drainfield systems surrounding Lac La Belle and that adding additional sewage from a commercial system (which could significantly increase the total nutrient loading) to the water in the Lac La Belle watershed basin will only serve to destroy the clear water lake that we now have," Brumleve added.
On the other hand, neither the old nor the new proposed zoning ordinance attempts to regulate sewers.
In a January 28, 2007, telephone conversation with Keweenaw Now, Soper pointed out that the Planning Commission's decision on zoning changes would not be based on sewer plans for the potential development.
"As far as I know," Soper said, "our consideration as to whether to change zoning -- from RR to
RS 1 or RS 2 -- is based on use, and that doesn't include sewers. That's all up to the Health Department."
The property owner or developer has an obligation to get sewer permits from either the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department, or, in the case of a large community sewer such as Black Bear's present one and possible future one, from the MDEQ.
In fact, Kirk said after the public hearing that Black Bear has already contacted MDEQ's Randy Conroy, geologist, who handled previous applications for Mt. Bohemia sewage disposal, about the plans for an additional community septic system.
During the public hearing, Brumleve asked Kirk if Black Bear had any sort of plan nailed down that
is related to this decision on the zoning.
"Nothing nailed down at this time," Kirk said.
"And so therefore you won't have to come back in front of the Board if you change your mind as to what the plan is going to be?" Brunleve asked.
Kirk replied that a site plan would be required, but Ed Kisiel, Eagle Harbor Township supervisor, pointed out that the only thing a site plan can do is review and make sure setback and height variances are correct.
|Following the public hearing, on Jan. 16, John Kirk
of U.P. Engineers and Architects, project architect for Black Bear,
displayed this site plan (green) of Black Bear's proposed development
project in and near the Mendota Plat of 1865, including the area for
community drainfields to the right. Placed above it for comparison is an
old map of the Mendota Plat. (Photo © 2007 Michele Anderson)
Kisiel said he believed this scenario needs a PUD, a Planned Unit Development.***
"I feel you're skirting the process by asking for this rezoning, because a PUD gives the community the type of control they need to make sure that the land use is appropriate for the development, and that's not happening," Kisiel said.
Black Bear: Ski market prevents long-range planning
Glieberman indicated the ski market prevents Black Bear from doing a PUD, which requires long-term planning.
"For us to tell you exactly what we would build in the next 20 years is not realistic," Glieberman said. "What exactly we build there could be a variety of things -- from rental use -- rental cabins
... could be yurts, could be single-family homes. ...The market and the customer will drive where that project goes. And so that's why it's important to know that there's nothing etched in stone (for what we're going to build) because we can't predict the market any better than you guys can predict the weather."
Kisiel also questioned the legality of the rezoning procedures since the parties involved in the
rezoning requests had not made formal applications to the Planning Commission.
"Since I have not had the opportunity," Kisiel said, "to review the application prior to this public hearing, I need to know who the owners of the property are because, according to the ordinance, only the Planning Commission, the County Board or the owner can request a zoning change."
|Ed Kisiel, left, Eagle Harbor Township supervisor,
addresses the Keweenaw County Planning Commissioners during the Jan. 16,
2007, public hearing on the new zoning map in the Mohawk School. Kisiel
had several concerns about Black Bear's lack of a long-term plan for the
proposed development at Mt. Bohemia. Jon Soper, Planning Commission
chairman, replies to questions as he displays a map showing zoning
districts in question. (Photo © 2007 Michele Anderson)
Soper explained that he was following advice from the Planning commission's consultant, Mark Wyckoff, who had sent him an email concerning the zoning map on Jan. 16, shortly before the public hearing that evening.
"The Planning Commission can initiate any changes to the zoning map," Soper said. "I don't think we did anything illegal."
Soper added the Commission was considering written requests for zoning changes from Black Bear and the other parties involved in the hearing. He noted also that he planned to meet with Kisiel before the Jan. 30 Planning Commission meeting.
He said Kisiel's comments at the public hearing "did not initiate any formal application."
At the public hearing, Kirk also explained Black Bear's request to change a narrow parcel north of the Bete Grise Road from RR to RS 2 because of ski runs close to the road. Kirk called the area "a natural progression of that part of the mountain." He said the present RR zoning would not support some possible future events, such as ski races.
"Black Bear has already been approached by NCAA for downhill skiing, for qualifications in other events," Kirk said. "They're the only group in the Midwest that has the vertical height necessary to meet the requirements for the
Kirk said the area would be used for staging events and would give Black Bear the ability "to do those things that normally happen at the ski resort in that location under the current proposed zoning ordinance. RR does not give us that."
Kirk added the Sand Point Road and wetlands would provide a buffer against neighbors so they could have those events.
At the hearing, Lac La Belle resident Tom Collins read his letter of Jan. 15, 2007, addressed to Jon Soper and the Planning Commission. In the letter Collins says, "Lac La Belle is undergoing the growing pains of development. So far I believe we have struck a pretty good balance between commercial and private development, residential living and preservation."
Collins gives Bete Grise North with its residential development and public beach, and the Bete Grise South Preserve, as examples of the balance. However, he points out, Mt. Bohemia challenges this effort to keep a balance because, while they own little or none of their land, they have the majority of resort service property and the largest portion of resort services property yet to be
Collins notes in bold print, "They should be encouraged to utilize what they have so greatly under utilized."
The letter offers several reasons why the land along Sand Point Road needs to stay residential: First, "to keep, maintain and enhance the integrity of residential living that already exists down that road"; second, to recognize that the current residential zoning "provides the best buffer between residential living and any possible commercial development"; finally, to respect the rights of residents who "bought their property knowing they had residential land adjacent to and enhancing their property."
Sand Point Road resident Paul Campbell commented at the public meeting that rezoning a residential area deserves consideration of the impact it's going to have on residents. He said he felt this meeting should have been held in the summer, when seasonal residents could be present.
Paul and Anita Campbell also wrote a letter to the Planning Commission, saying, "We are against any rezoning in Section 33. It has been zoned Resort-Residential for many years and it follows the recently updated Keweenaw County Land Use Plan."
The Campbells point out that in his letter of Oct. 13, 2006, requesting the zoning changes, Ellias mentions Black Bear leases about 1,000 acres for the Mt. Bohemia Property, while, at the end of his letter, he cites a Michigan law concerning the rights of property owners: “Under the Michigan Constitution, vested property rights are protected from
rezoning efforts which significantly reduces the value of property. Zoning laws may not deprive
owners of land of vested interest therein without just compensation." (Emphasis the Campbells')
The Campbells conclude, "If all of Sec. 33 keeps its present Resort-Residential zoning designation, we believe buffering, protection of land values and present quality of life for residential stakeholders will be preserved and maintained."
Lac La Belle residents Collins, Battersby and Karl Parks asked for a show of hands from residents as to whether they opposed or favored Black Bear's
rezoning requests. This was considered a "straw vote," and not official. According to the draft minutes of the meeting, the request to change RS 2 to RS 1 (near the Mendota Plat) was voted with 2 yes and 17 opposed; the request to change the strip of land north of the Bete Grise Road from RR to RS 2 was voted 5 yes and 15 no; and the request to change the RR area near Sand Point Road to RS 1 was voted 1 yes and 19 no.
"There's more than just a ski hill at stake," Parks said. "We know that ski hills are not profitable by themselves. They're only profitable when you have all the services that go along with this type of recreation. Many of us feel that this area doesn't need to be developed. It looks good and special just the way it is today. Its pristine quality -- that's the lure of Keweenaw."
After the straw vote, Glieberman said he was open to compromise, that is, dropping the request to change RR zoning in the area
west of Sand Point Road if the residents were to accept the other two rezoning requests.
Battersby then noted, "I thought our compromise was having a septic system
like you have in our residential neighborhood. I thought that was a compromise....Do you think that septic system enhanced our property values? To me that was a compromise."
Kisiel repeated his point that a PUD provides oversight for the community
that is going to be impacted. This community has a right to determine land use,
he said. Kisiel said he believed the County had already gone overboard in not
mandating a PUD for the initial development and in excusing Black Bear from a
special use permit that would have been required for this type of development
under the new ordinance.
"So we've already compromised in great ways, in
my opinion, to accommodate the Black Bear development," Kisiel said.
comments received applause from some residents at the meeting.
favor of Black Bear, Robert Grasseschi of Portage Township (Houghton County)
spoke of the need to encourage investors to develop the local economy.
Grasseschi spoke of the need for jobs in the area for people who don't have
|Robert Grasseschi, standing, of Portage Township
(Houghton County) speaks on behalf of Black Bear during the Jan. 16
public meeting on Keweenaw County rezoning requests. He mentioned the
need for jobs in the area vs. the interests of 'not-in-my-backyard'
people. Lonie Glieberman, Black Bear president, is at far left. (Photo ©
2007 Michele Anderson)
"This isn't a 'not-in-my-backyard' issue. This is a countywide issue for
Keweenaw County," Grasseschi said. "There's an elitist attitude up
here from certain people who are up here just to enjoy their cottages."
Soper said the Planning Commission received about 25 letters in all, commenting on the rezoning requests, most of which concerned the Mt. Bohemia parcels.
According to the unofficial minutes of the public hearing, most of these letters
were opposing the rezoning near Mt. Bohemia; but Soper noted the letters
included opinions on both sides. The letters are on file in the Keweenaw County Courthouse in Eagle River.
rezoning requests considered at hearing
Four other rezoning requests were considered at the Jan. 16 public hearing.
Virginia Jamison spoke about her request to change parcels in T57N R30W section 5 from RR to TR (Timber Resources). She said the property, at Gratiot Lake in Eagle Harbor Township, has always been used for timber harvesting and borders on other land zoned TR.
Ken Twardzik of Copper Harbor addressed the Commission concerning his parcel in T58N R28W section 1, which he requests re-zoning from CD-EP (Conservation Environmental Protection) to RR. The property is near land purchased recently by the State of Michigan.
Another parcel near the State land, in T58N R27W, section 20, is under consideration for a request of
rezoning from CD-EP to RR. (Soper said this latter request is intended to correct an error on the zoning map.)
Finally, a re-zoning request being initiated by the Planning Commission is for a parcel in T59N R29W section 1, from RS to TR.
The Planning Commission is expected to vote on these rezoning requests at their Jan. 30 meeting in order to finalize the zoning map for the new proposed zoning ordinance.
"I'm going to try to balance environmental concerns and the need for development, and we've done that from the beginning," Soper said. "That's in our plan -- our Blueprint for Tomorrow (Keweenaw County Land Use Plan)."
|Editor's notes: *The Keweenaw County Planning
Commission was formerly called the Keweenaw County Zoning/Planning
Commission, or, informally, the "Zoning Board."
**See the Dec. 11, 2001, Keweenaw Now article "Black
Bear awaits DEQ septic permit."
*** See reference to PUD in our Dec. 13, 2006, article, "Mt. Bohemia zoning issues to top Dec. 14 Planning Commission meeting."
**** Black Bear, Inc., leases land from Sustainable Forest Technologies, an International Paper
(IP) subsidiary which is now providing forest management and harvest services for GMO
Renewable Resources, LLC (GMO RR). GMO RR is a private forest investment management company
that recently completed the purchase of 441,000 acres of Michigan forestlands from IP, including all of IP's holdings in the Upper Peninsula.
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