Draft Planning Commission Minutes November 2, 2023

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Minutes of Helena Township Planning Commission

November 2, 2023

Meeting called to order by Moglovkin at 5.08 P.M.    .

Opened with Pledge of Allegiance.

 Roll Call:

Present:            Sue Moglovkin              Joe Bassil

Gary Lockwood             Mike Robinson (5:26)

Bonnie Robbins            Jim Gurr

Gordy Schafer


Township officials present:   Bob Logee, Butch Peeples

Chair Moglovkin asked that meeting be chaired by Robbins.

Approval of Agenda:  Motion by Robbins with addition of Bylaws discussion under New Business, 2nd by Lockwood     Motion carried.

Statement of Conflict of Interest:         None

Approval of Minutes:   October 5th and 19th, 2023.  As submitted.  Motion: Lockwood, 2nd  Schafer.  Carried

 Public Comment:         Approximately 50 in attendance.

Paul Sak offered suggestions for the master plan on property rights language taken directly from the Antrim County Master Plan.  He submitted a copy of his and Lori Sak’s suggestions by email to the township office.

Lori Sak shared comments on commercial use in R-1 districts, citing that someone could purchase land in the Ag district and use their lakefront property to funnel use with multiple docks.  She would like to see an ordinance that prohibits commercial use in R-1.  It is important to protect the quality of life and the lake.  With a strong ordinance the permitting agencies such as EGLE can control funneling.  Schafer asked if she is aware of funneling happening now.

Linda Spacey shared more info on what surrounding townships have as ordinance concerning use of RV and campers.  She asked the commission to focus on uses in R-1 and try to be consistent with surrounding townships.  Some townships only allow use if you are building or repairing a permanent residence.

Andrew Albrecht stated he has been coming to Torch for 70 years and the water quality is deteriorating.  The lake supports the economy and it is important to protect it and preserve it for the economic future of the area.

Dale Eschenburg shared his concerns of the 180- day time period being used to establish homestead tax reduction and voter registration.  He does not feel the language is strong enough to prevent that use of RV and campers on vacant land.

Commission member Schafer asked for recognition to share facts on the campground in R-1 concerns.  Schafer stated that the commission had never discussed allowing a campground on vacant land zoned as R-1.  He explained the use of a vacant parcel on Clam Lake that spurred the discussion of RV use on vacant land.  Commission member Lockwood explained that use and why the commission created language to address that concern.  Lockwood also shared other topics the planning commission will address in the future, such as special use permits.

Robbins asked counsel to clarify whether language is needed in an ordinance.  Chris Bzdok, township legal counsel, explained that if language is not in the ordinance to specifically allow or deny use it is generally assumed the use is not allowed.

Laura Wilcox expressed concern that 180 days is too long for camper use.

Bob Mack discussed Antrim County’s language in the master plan that addresses protecting water, health & welfare.  He feels there needs to be a clear definition of the zoning districts and what is allowed in each district.

Mack Whitehouse talked of Torch Lake’s ranking as 3rd most beautiful lake and its draw for tourism.  Brown algae is being studied by multiple lake protection organizations and being funded by people who care about protecting the lake.  He stated that it is imperative to rely on best practices for lake protection when writing ordinances.  On the recent survey more than 60% of those responding feel protecting natural resources is a high priority and more needs to be done for shoreline protection.  A greenbelt is an important part of shoreline protection.  The current language is exemplary and should not be changed.

Laura Wilcox asked about why the ordinance about RV use on vacant land is not enforced.

Paul Sak asked how the change happened, what started it.  Bassil and Schafer discussed the issue with the permitting agencies issuing permits and putting our zoning administrator in the middle because the agency does not follow our ordinance.  Discussion that placing rocks and riprap causes problems on other properties.  Gurr stated that the original ordinance only allowed an 8 foot strip as assess to the lake and no changes to the shoreline could be made.  The township worked with the Soil Erosion officer to create language that would allow owners to have some use of the beach front but still prevent sediment from washing into the lake.  The township has relied on those permitting agencies in an effort to keep the township out of court because of conflicts concerning shoreline development.

A Clam Lake resident shared that he has been here for 50 years and this shoreline has improved on its own.  His land does not have a steep bank and the lake has created a nice sandy beach without any changes being made by him.

Schafer asked for a show of hands on a septic ordinance requiring inspection on transfer.  The audience members were clearly in favor of that type of ordinance. Audience members stated that Milton Township has this type of ordinance but it has not proven to catch all septic systems that have failed.  Moglovkin stated that their son had purchased his grandpa’s home in Clearwater Township and had to replace both the well and septic.  She agrees with testing and inspection on point of sale.

With no further public comment offered the commission continued to New Business.

Communications:         Robbins shared that the township has received many emails about the ordinance language change and they will be maintained for the record.

New Business:             Zoning Administrator Report – LU (Land Use Permit) FC (Field Check)

 AC (Attorney Contact) PC (Public Contact) ZV (Zoning Violation)

                                    Oct  2023:         LU 2, FC 3, AC 0, PC 7, ZV 0

Discussion about meeting time.  Members are okay with the 5:00 PM time.  Work schedules have changed and members will be able to make the start of the meeting thru the winter months.

Old Business:

Discussion on whether to proceed or take the information shared tonight home and review for the next meeting.  Gurr stated we have been working on this review for several meetings and he came prepared to finish the process tonight.  He was discouraged that members wanted to delay our work for another month.  Members agreed to finish reviewing the current language so we can make a formal decision on changes next month and move this process forward.

Robbins asked Chris Bzdok if his firm would be able to coordinate and monitor a ZOOM meeting when the commission has made its final draft of the master plan.  It has been the practice of the planning commission to not make changes during the winter months because many township residents leave for the winter.  It is important for the public to be able to be a part of the master plan public hearing.  Bzdok will look into this service and get back with us.  Chris left the meeting and the commission continued with the work of reviewing the rest of the master plan language.

Robbins will take the suggestions made by the commission and formulate a draft for review at the December meeting.

Public Comment:         No additional comments from the public.

Adjourn: 7:23 PM  Motion: Schafer, 2nd Lockwood.  Carried

Respectfully Submitted,

Bonnie Robbins

Helena Township Planning Commission Recording Secretary