“Have you ever seen a 200-pound dog?” asks Maura Sanders as I trail her through her lovely home on the Old Mission Peninsula. I think back to my childhood horse, a Morgan named Copper who was about the size of the massive dog standing before me.
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“That’s Edward, an English Mastiff,” continues Maura, who then points to another equally large dog, “and that’s his brother, Cooper.” I’d heard rumors about these super-sized canines and seen photos on Maura’s Facebook page, but in person, they are even more impressive.
Maura, who moved to the Old Mission Peninsula with her husband Todd and their two daughters in 2013, was born in Southfield, Michigan, and grew up in Farmington Hills. She enlisted in the Navy, where she spent a year before attending the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland for four years. After graduation, she was commissioned as an officer in the Marine Corps. Todd, also a Marine, was a year ahead of her at the Naval Academy.
FINDING A HOME ON THE OMP
So how did they end up on the Old Mission Peninsula? Growing up in the Detroit area, Maura’s family drove north once or twice a year for her dad’s conferences at the Grand Traverse Resort, and while in high school, she came to Traverse City for summer basketball camp.
Fast-forward to her military years with Todd, and she would always bring their kids home to Michigan for a couple of weeks every summer. “For one of those weeks, my dad would get in the car with us and we would road trip all over Michigan,” she recalls. “We always ended up coming through Traverse City.”
When she and Todd were stationed in Italy looking beyond their military years, they pondered where to settle down. While they considered locations around the globe, including Europe, Australia, the Pacific Northwest, New England and Washington, D.C., Maura’s thoughts turned to northern Michigan.
“The whole point of retirement, the kids being the age they are, was to get closer to home,” she says, adding that the Old Mission Peninsula was their one and only choice to call home. “It’s perfect. It’s got all four seasons, and every day on my drive into town, it’s just incredible.”
SERVING THE COMMUNITY AND HER CLIENTS
During the few years that she’s been on the Peninsula, Maura has already established herself as a big part of the community. After a tenure on the Peninsula Township Park Commission, she ran for and won a seat as Trustee on the Township Board in 2016.
Maura is also a licensed realtor with Keller Williams, Inc. – Greater Grand Traverse, a career she loves for a variety of reasons. “I like houses, number one,” she notes. “I’ve lived in an awful lot of them in every kind of good and bad situation. I also have a mind for business, and it’s very rewarding to score a deal and negotiate for my clients to get what they need or want.”
She’s a licensed realtor in both Michigan and Georgia, where she lived previously, and has a strong connection to the Metro Detroit area, where much of her large family still lives. She notes that about 60 percent of her clients are from outside the area, “whether they’re moving to the area to retire or buying vacant land now, knowing there won’t be much left” when they’re ready to build.
“I would love to be the go-to person for the Old Mission Peninsula. I very much want to protect peoples’ home and land values out here. I understand the dynamics of this whole area, I’m a strong networker, and whatever people need that’s related to real estate, they can call me.”
A FINE BALANCE BETWEEN PRESERVATION AND DEVELOPMENT
As someone who serves on the Peninsula Township Board and has a great love for the Old Mission Peninsula, Maura is contemplative about her connection to this 18-mile strip of land. “We picked this place because it is a unique and special place,” she says. “I very much care for this entire area, and we picked it because we thought it would be the best place to raise our family.”
She continues, “I’m all for smart development and redevelopment, but it needs to be a smart decision. I’ve seen developments in other states where there was a very clear set of regulations and zoning ordinances, where beautiful homes were developed into the natural area, rather than the natural area being cleared, homes built, and then piecemealed back together.”
Maura is also very cognizant about the impact of developments on the community. “If you have a piece of property that’s for residential development, that’s awesome. But just remember that whatever you build, your name is going to be part of this community for a very long time, and those are relationships that should be built.”
She adds, “As [Township Supervisor] Rob Manigold reminds me every time I meet with him, at the end of the day, regardless of what the decisions are, these people are still our neighbors and will continue to be, and you have to be respectful.”
Maura is also extremely wary of large commercial developments or “town centers” on the Peninsula. “There’s a place for everything. Preserving this community and protecting the natural assets and resources is priority number one. The Old Mission Peninsula is not for major development. It just isn’t. I’ve lived in enough places where I’ve seen where it’s been done right and also done wrong.”
She adds that it’s a fine balance between development and preservation. “This is a place that is a destination. That’s never going to go away. Adding more commercial development, more wineries … yeah, it might increase it. But eventually, it’s going to get to a point where the people who have been here might be deterred from coming back because of traffic or overcrowding. You don’t want that. At the end of the day, preserving and protecting the Old Mission Peninsula is paramount. There’s a balance, and there’s also a tipping point. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I don’t necessarily want to get there.”
A VOICE FOR OMP RESIDENTS
As a Peninsula Township Trustee, Maura looks forward to building a relationship with all the commissions, including the Park Commission, which holds a special place in her heart, and being a voice for the residents, both newcomers and those whose family dates back generations. “I’m easy to communicate with, and if people are interested in something or have an issue, they can come and talk to me, and I will help. I will voice their concern.”
As someone who’s lived in a lot of places during the past couple of decades, she loves calling the Peninsula home. “I learn new things about the Old Mission Peninsula every single day,” she says. “I’ve been a gypsy since 1995, so it’s nice to have a community.”
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Outtakes of Edward and Cooper with Dog Wrangler Extraordinaire Maura Sanders: