By a narrow vote of four to three, the Peninsula Township Board approved the “81 on East Bay” development at a special meeting last night.
After presentations by the developer and other experts, as well as public comment, the Board voted on each ordinance item that related to the project, with the final overall vote to approve the development as follows: Margaret Achorn, no; Isaiah Wunsch, yes; Maura Sanders, no; Warren Wahl, yes; Brad Bickle, yes; Rob Manigold, yes; Joanne Westphal, no.
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The 81-acre development, which has been several years in the making and included multiple lawsuits, borders Boursaw Road and consists of 41 single-family lots and up to 40 boat docking spaces on East Bay under a Special Use Permit.
At tonight’s meeting, the continuation of a public hearing which took place on Oct. 27, the Township Board was allowed to deliberate on only two issues remanded back to the Township by now-retired 13th Circuit Court Judge Philip Rodgers in a January 2016 ruling.
Those issues include the location and functionality of the development’s emergency access road, and whether the standards for soil erosion, grading and storm water have been met. No other issues could be considered with regard to the development, which was approved by the previous Township Board in August 2015 (prior to public information that the land was farmed for decades), but challenged in court by Township resident James Komendera and the nonprofit group Preserve Old Mission. The group’s suit led to the January 2016 ruling by Judge Rodgers.
After a presentation by developer Kevin O’Grady’s team and other expert sources, along with public comment time, the Township Board discussed the issues and then addressed each related item in the ordinance, the standards of which needed to be met in order to approve the development.
The votes for each ordinance item and corresponding motion, including the final motion to approve the development, were fairly consistent, with Township Clerk Joanne Westphal, Trustee Margaret Achorn, and Trustee Maura Sanders voting no on most items, and Township Supervisor Rob Manigold, Trustee Isaiah Wunsch, Trustee Warren Wahl, and Township Treasurer Brad Bickle voting yes on most items.
The approval of the development is contingent on several conditions, including: illustration of the watershed on the plans, storm piping for a 25-year period instead of a 10-year period, ditching of the cul-de-sac area to prevent overflow, and ditch flow capacity calculations.
The approval is also contingent on the establishment of a grading and stabilization plan, an arborist to oversee the possibility of oak wilt, and a third party consultant on site to ensure compliance and report back to the Township.
Before turning in a no vote on the project, Trustee Sanders noted, “The earth change, the accelerated soil erosion due to runoff and stormwater, not just rain, but snow – a couple years ago, the incredible amounts of snow that we had – what the snow does to the lakeshore, it’s fascinating, but it is very dangerous and there’s a place for homes to be built and there’s a place for homes not to be built.”
She added, “For this particular piece that we’re voting on and looking at, with best management practices and with all the expert advice, i’m going to rely on the Army Corps of Engineers, who I feel very comfortable with. There’s no way I could approve this, even with conditions. It is on too big of a scale and there’s way too much involved and at stake, not just the health, safety and welfare of the immediate residents, but also of our lakeshore, which we need to protect, because it is our neighbor, as well.”
As Trustee Wahl delivered his yes vote, he brought up other Peninsula Township developments that have not received the same level of scrutiny as The 81 project. “My biggest concern is that we have other properties in development here that have similar issues, and I don’t see us requiring any of this from them. I drive past one on the way to work every single day and I don’t see any silt sheet there, I don’t see them putting anything down, I see grading taking place every day, but we have no uproar there. I don’t understand why we’re concerned so much with one and not the other … I think this project, with all the issues available, given the remand that we are limited to, I think this is the best and appropriate way to go.”
Before voting yes, Township Supervisor Manigold noted, “I would like to go on record that this has been exhausting for everybody … if this had come before us [instead of the previous Township Board], I don’t think there’s any of us who would doubt this would be a totally different project. Mr. O’Grady actually told me that he wanted some vineyards in there. I don’t know why he was told no by the Township … but as we go through this thing, what we have done is our best with the narrow scope we’ve had to deal with, to make it safe for everybody … to look at our ordinance, we realize it’s been a learning experience, and a lot of things in our ordinance have to be beefed up so we can be better stewards of the land.”
And finally, before delivering her no vote, Township Clerk Westphal stated, “I’d like to just say over the years, I’ve trained over 2000 undergraduate students in landscape architecture and recreation resources to work competently in their fields and to have the confidence to challenge the status quo when the environment is challenged. I would be betraying the values of my profession and would cast myself in the role of a hypocrite to all those young professionals that I’ve trained over the 43 years that I’ve been in academia. And for that reason, my vote on this project is a no.”
A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So I started my own newspaper. Because the Gazette is mainly reader-supported, I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks my way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the OMP. Check out the donation page here. Thank you so much for your support. -jb