Noisy wedding receptions and a Special Hearing on May 13

Posted on May 8, 2010


OK, here’s the deal.  Everyone who reads Torch Lake Views who is likely to care about the matter already knows about the Great A-Ga-Ming Wedding Reception Controversy.  It has dragged on now for more than two years, and a great many of us are heartily sick of the whole thing.  That does not mean that we will not be at the public hearing on Thursday, May 13, 2010 at 7:00 p.m.  We will be there. 

What?? I can hear you asking.  Another public hearing?!?  WHY?!?

Here is the language from the Notice:

Background: At the request of a township citizen, the Township Board is hereby scheduling a second Public Hearing on revisions to the Zoning Ordinance affecting the PUD and PRD Zoning Classifications.  (The first Public Hearing was held, as required, by the Planning Commission.)

Now I am as tolerant of errant nonsense as the next person, but I have to say that I am astonished that Township Trustee Alan Martel, who is the township citizen referred to above, is persisting in his relentless campaign of opposition to the Planning Commission’s amendments.  He has spoken at every single Planning Commission meeting but one since this whole issue arose.  His concerns have been listened to and addressed.  Some of his recommendations were deemed good, and have been adopted.  Others have not.  That is because not everyone else in the township agrees with him, a consideration that seems to have escaped his attention. 

Further, the Planning Commission had not just one but two Public Hearings on the matter, as the hearing in December led to some significant revisions.  There was another hearing in March to allow comment on those revisions, and at that hearing the only opposition expressed was Mr. Martel’s.  However, he has been busy ever since, holding his own private meetings on the matter over at the Township Hall, stirring up a hornet’s nest where none existed.  And he has requested yet one more Public Hearing where he can have one more shot at the Planning Commission.

I’m not wild about all the provisions of the amendments.  I don’t suppose anyone likes every single element of each one.  But the final result is, in my estimation, the result of principled listening and effort on the part of the members of the Planning Commission and most important of all, represents the consensus of the citizens who have expressed themselves on the matter. 

If you want to refresh your memory on the sequence of events, you can read the updates I sent to the Elk Rapids News in December and January and February and March, because I’m reprinting them at the bottom of this post.  If you are sick and tired of the whole thing, just show up at the hearing and say Enough already!  Move on!  Not every single living detail of life needs to become a passionately pursued political panderment.

You want to know the real irony?  We don’t bother to enforce the Zoning Ordinance anyway for the most part.  But that’s another post.

The reports as they appeared in the Elk Rapids News:

December, 2009: Rezoning plans go back to the drawing board

The Planning Commission has been working on extensive revisions to Torch Lake Township’s Zoning Ordinance, in particular the sections on PRD (planned residential development) and PUD (planned unit development) zones. It proposed to do away with the PRD zone entirely, revise the permitted uses, setback requirements, noise abatement requirements and other features in a PUD zone, and rezone the two existing PRDs—Birch Ridge Estates and the A-Ga-Ming golf course—as PUDs. The changes were widely perceived to be an attempt to resolve neighbors’ concerns about noise from the wedding receptions at A-Ga-Ming.

At a well-attended public hearing on December 8, residents told the Commissioners they were concerned that the approach did not address the noise problem at A-Ga-Ming effectively. There was also strong disagreement with the proposed rezoning of Birch Ridge.

Referring to the long list of permitted uses in the revised PUD zone, Virg Mouch said, “Now we’ve gone from a party tent to a full scale commercial strip mall in a residential area.” Alan Martel opposed the creation of legally nonconforming properties through rezoning and questioned restrictive provisions of the revised PUD. Jeff Gerstenberger was opposed to rezoning A-Ga-Ming to enable continuation of the receptions, which he said are a commercial activity unsuited to a residential area.

A letter from Paul Ricca said that if the township wanted to develop commercial uses it should look to blighted areas in the village zones, not to the existing PRDs. Christopher and Heidi Wagner wrote that they had purchased property with a distinct rural nature and did not want it “spoiled by a commercial invasion.”

Tom Stillings said that making residential parcels in the existing PRDs nonconforming could constitute a taking. Bruce McLachlan, developer of Birch Ridge, said that the people who had bought property there “wanted the restrictions they bought then. It’s ridiculous to do anything different.”

Commission member Bob Spencer said that he had some of the same questions. “What advantage is there to property owners [in Birch Ridge] to rezoning from PRD to PUD? Why are we rezoning it for them?”

On a motion by Spencer, a divided Commission voted 4-2 to instruct its planning consultant, Chris Grobbel, to present recommendations prior to the next regular meeting that would continue the use of the PRD zone and permit going forward with the PUD zone as developed to date. (Lee Scott, Bob Spencer, Jessica Thompson and Chuck Goossen voted in favor, Jim Walworth and Larry Tomlinson were opposed.) The proposed changes will be taken up at the Commission’s next regular meeting on January 12, 2010.

January, 2010: Planning Commission responds to resident concerns

As reported last month in the Elk Rapids News, at a public hearing in December Torch Lake Township residents told the Planning Commission they were opposed to proposals to eliminate the PRD (planned residential development) Zone, expand commercial uses in the PUD (planned unit development) Zone, and rezone the two existing PRDs—Birch Ridge Estates and the A-Ga-Ming golf course—as PUDs.

At the January 12 regular meeting Commissioners adopted revisions in response to those concerns.  The PRD Zone has been restored, with only the technical changes required to bring it into compliance with new State zoning law.  The changes in permitted uses and site requirements in a PUD Zone remain; however, Commissioners made it explicit that the proposal to rezone the existing PRDs as PUDs “has been removed from the table.”  Should A-Ga-Ming or any other property owner wish to establish a PUD, it must come before the Commission with a site plan and go through the full process of public review and approval.

The likelihood that A-Ga-Ming will request rezoning prompted two questions.  Commissioner Jim Walworth speculated that, as the original PRD site is now under multiple ownership, it may be difficult to rezone as a PUD in whole or in part.  If A-Ga-Ming—“whoever A-Ga-Ming may be at this point,” he said— wants to rezone the golf course as a PUD, the surrounding residential lots might automatically become nonconforming. 

Commissioner Jim King pointed out that four of the seven Planning Commission members live within 300 feet of the A-Ga-Ming property, and would have to recuse themselves from voting on any rezoning request, leaving the Commission without a quorum.  Commission chair Lee Scott explained that there is a “necessity” provision in the law for restoring one member to voting status in such cases.  Township attorney Bryan Graham is aware of the issue, and will prescribe a mechanism for choosing the member to be restored if the occasion arises.

Planning consultant Chris Grobbel is to incorporate all the revisions in a final draft for adoption at the February 9 meeting, which will begin at 7:00 pm rather than the usual 7:30.

February, 2010: Planning Commission completes work on PRD/PUD and ZBA zoning changes, sets public hearing

On February 9 the Planning Commission approved a final draft of its rewrite of the sections of the Zoning Ordinance affecting Planned Residential Development (PRD) and Planned Unit Development (PUD) zones.  It also approved revisions to the section governing Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) matters, changing the number of Alternates from two to one, making appointment of an Alternate optional rather than mandatory, and removing the requirement for quarterly ZBA meetings in favor of a flexible schedule to meet demand.  The public hearing on these changes is set for Tuesday, March 9, at 7:30 pm at the Community Services Building. 

March, 2010: Torch Lake Township Update

In Township government news, the Planning Commission completed the public hearing process on the proposed PRD/PUD zoning revisions and sent them on to Antrim County for review and comment.  It also set priorities for the next Zoning Ordinance revisions: the sections on site plan review and wind energy.