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81 on East Bay, May 2018 | Jane Boursaw Photo
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I spoke recently with Kyle O’Grady, whose family is developing “The 81 on East Bay,” an 81-acre parcel which borders Boursaw Road on the Old Mission Peninsula and consists of 41 single-family homes on half-acre lots, 2500 feet of shoreline on East Bay, and more than 54 acres of open space.

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The development has been fraught with challenges, including legal battles, lengthy delays, and contentious public hearings where Old Mission Peninsula residents and environmental leaders voiced concerns.

First approved by the previous Peninsula Township Board in August 2015, “The 81 on East Bay” landed in court later that year to battle a lawsuit filed by Preserve Old Mission, a nonprofit founded by neighboring Old Mission Peninsula resident Jim Komendera, concerned over the breadth of the development on pristine woodlands, shore frontage, open fields and rolling hillsides.

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Fast forward to December 2017, and the current Peninsula Township Board once again approved the development by a narrow vote of four to three. This approval came with a set of conditions, including air monitoring to ensure that the possibly chemical-laden dust from farming activities decades prior didn’t drift onto neighboring properties.

Although the developers – which include Kyle O’Grady, his parents Kevin and Vicki, and his brother Kevin, under their company Insight Building Company – have moved equipment onto the land and begun moving dirt and removing trees, The 81’s troubles aren’t quite over just yet. Read on for Kyle’s thoughts on backroom deals, being the villain, and why they’re suing Peninsula Township.

Jane Boursaw: I see you’ve started working on the property. Can you give us an update on how things are going?

Kyle O’Grady: We’re excited that the Township Board decided to approve it for the second time. It may look a little different on the outside to some people, but it’s just a small family company, Insight Building Company, my dad, my mom, me and my brother. We also have one office manager downstate, and a project manager who does odds and ends. We’ve owned the property for four years, and we’ve been trying to get a start on it for three years. It’s been very time consuming, unfortunately, and a struggle. We had hoped to get the ball rolling quite some time ago, but [the Township’s] attorney has put in writing that we can start on the trees. So we have the equipment out there, and we’ve started trimming and removing some of the trees, and starting some of the land balancing.

Jane: Prior to owning this property, did you live in northern Michigan?

Kyle: My Dad got his start with his Grandpa down in the metro Detroit area, and we started coming up here in the summers. Our Grandpa took us on a tour of Traverse City, and like everybody else, we just fell in love with the area. We have a lot of family here. My brother and I both played lacrosse in high school, and we had some tournaments out at the Keystone Field. I graduated from Albion College a year ago.

Jane: And you have an office in Clarkston, right?

Kyle: Yeah, we started in Clarkston, and moved up here six years ago. My Dad and Mom actually found [The 81] property on Realtor.com, came out and walked it, and just fell in love. They had a vision, and we’ve been trying to bring that to fruition.

Jane: And you also have an office in Traverse City now?

Kyle: Yeah, we have our office now on Munson Avenue. Basically, we’re moving most of our business up here, although we’re not physically moving much, since it’s a small company. But we wrapped up a development downstate, and like a lot of other people who’ve come up here, it’s like, wait, where do I want to be? Do I want to go back there, or do I want to stay here? Most of our efforts are focused up here now.

Jane: Do you have other projects you’re working on?

Kyle: We’re working on a few different projects, and we’re meeting with different marketing companies and newspapers, and getting the ball rolling on The 81. I’m living up here full-time now. My parents have been here for six years, but I was bouncing in and out during summer. Now that the weather’s turned, I couldn’t be happier.

Jane: Right, the snow’s finally gone. For now.

Kyle: I know. Not too long ago, I was driving around and it was 81 degrees, and I look over and there’s a four-foot pile of snow.

Jane: Our crazy northern Michigan weather. So, are you a Realtor then? Is that sort of your part in the family business?

Kyle: Yeah. Obviously, I grew up in the development industry, but after I graduated from college, I was like, what the heck am I going to do? I just tried to find my own lane and do my own thing, while working with the family. I got my Real Estate License right after my 22nd birthday this past September. I talked to a few different brokers in the area, and ended up having a good connection with the Brick family. I placed my license with Re/Max Bayshore Properties on October 31st.

Jane: Well, the Bricks have been around a long time. They’re definitely a good family to get in with.

Kyle: Yeah, it was just a great fit. I’m super happy to be with them.

Jane: Did your family anticipate what a struggle it would be when you first started looking at The 81 property? People out here are really passionate about preserving the land.

Kyle: It definitely didn’t run its course as we expected, but from day one, ever since we came up here and fell in love with the property, we’ve had a great passion for bringing a community to the Peninsula. We were excited to make that opportunity available for 41 additional people. When we first got into it, the idea wasn’t, oh another development on the Peninsula. The idea was, look at this land. What can we do on our end to fit this land the best way possible?

Jane: And it could have been more homes, if the second plan, the use-by-right plat subdivision plan, had gone through. It could have been 53 homes instead of 41.

Kyle: Right, we could have done a lot more homes. I think any big corporation that doesn’t really care about a community, they just look at the numbers, and more homes, more numbers, right? They would have come in with a bulldozer, leveled it, put the houses in, put it in the MLS, and sold it. But like I said, my Dad’s been doing this his whole life. He started when he was in high school and worked with his Grandpa. He knew that this one wasn’t like other communities. This one had to be special, and sacrificing a few homes was certainly something that he was willing to do to make something truly beautiful, that we could all be proud of.

Jane: There was a lot of talk about the [Grand Traverse Regional Land] Conservancy throughout the process. Did you ever consider approaching the Conservancy and working with them on your open space?

Kyle: We were preserving a lot of the land by putting a special use permit together versus the use-by-right. I guess that was our way of having that Conservancy mindset, and preserving over half of the development as open space. Then over time, it turned into more of the Conservancy working with the Township behind-the-scenes, without even contacting us or having our wishes and thoughts in mind. If it had started off differently at the beginning, instead of, hey let’s try this and let’s try this, and if there was no delay and the township was courteous to our requests, I think it could have turned out differently.

Jane: As I understand it, you’re currently suing Peninsula Township? Can you tell me anything about that?

Kyle: Sure. It’s a bummer that the first time we’re talking about this, it’s about lawsuits. But it is what it is. What’s occurring is, over time as this has gone on, we did our due diligence and research, and we’ve come to discover things – emails from township representatives and the former township attorney – that led us to this point in time. Basically, we got their emails through FOIA requests, and a few of them were pretty damning. We have emails from the former township attorney [Jim Young] saying that the zoning ordinance had never been applied this way. But he’s talking to what are supposed to be third-party neutral experts, saying, hey, make sure you put this in your report, and make sure you have a focus on this.

Jane: So you didn’t know any of this was happening?

Kyle: Right. And after our research and our FOIA requests, we discovered that the former Township attorney [Jim Young] was working with the Conservancy to put together a letter to send to us, saying basically, ‘If you don’t touch your land, you’ll walk away clean. It will be donated, and everything will be good.’ We also have an email from Glen Chown [executive director of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy], as he’s working with Jim Young, saying, “Alright, I’m about to send this to him. We’ll see how stubborn and bullheaded Mr. O’Grady is.” There was a story in the paper stating that the Conservancy only works with willing landowners. That’s contradictory. And we have emails admitting that the Township attorney was trying to interpret something that he says, in his own words, has never been interpreted that way before, being the zoning ordinance, about the soils. Basically, he’s writing expert reports for the experts, admitting that it’s never been interpreted this way before, but it’s crucial that we do on this project.

Jane: So, you’re suing the Township?

Kyle: Yeah. Basically, we as a family are still waiting for the damages of being held up for three years. We’re a small business. Essentially, the wishes and the desires of a few individuals to preserve this land and work illegally to do so, have cost us three years of business, and have shut our business down for three years. We’re just looking for justice. We never wanted any of this. We came to this beautiful spot with an idea in mind to preserve as much land as we can. We’ve all been excited. I actually made the logo for the The 81 development when I was a senior in high school. So it’s been quite some time. We’re just looking for a judge to have a fair look at it, look at the evidence, and put together what was going on here. We find that it’s pretty obvious. Obviously, those that are being accused are going to say it differently, but it is what it is. The evidence speaks for itself.

Jane: You’re suing the township for damages then, correct?

Kyle: We are. One of our cases states that the second approval of the Township has conditions that have never been done before. We’re appealing that decision, requesting that we be treated like every other development. That we can proceed with our county permits and requirements, just as others have done, instead of having air monitoring, which has never been done on the Peninsula. And we’re suing Jim Young, the former Township attorney, personally, for civil extortion and gross negligence, working and conspiring with individuals to extort our property and unwillingly purchase the property from us.

Jane: I wanted to ask you about the soil testing. You probably know that this land was in my husband’s family. It was their family farm, and they sold it decades ago, in the 1960s. But the land – and all of the land farmed on the Old Mission Peninsula back then – had some pretty toxic chemicals sprayed on it. We’re talking DDT, parathion, lead arsenate … a lot of those chemicals are banned now, but I’ve got pictures of crop dusters flying over the orchard right next to our house in Old Mission back in the 1950s. Those chemicals are in the soil basically forever. Can you see where that would be a concern for at least some of the nearby residents?

Kyle: Well, I guess I would refer to the precedence and what’s been done before. That should be how things operate, but we’re being dragged through the mud. Look at Vineyard Ridge with the same exact agricultural soils. They got approved without all of these regulations, just as everyone else has been. You drive past it, and you can see that they did their tree removal and their land balancing, etc. They had no requirements of air monitoring or anything of that nature. So, we’d already been approved one time by the Board with a slight remand, and then it turned into something that broke precedence on the Peninsula. As that’s happening, Vineyard Ridge gets approved. We actually have an email from the night of the approval from the engineer, I believe it was Mansfield [Land Use Consultants of Traverse City], asking if they had a BEA [Baseline Environmental Assessment] report. It says right in the email, not that it pertains to tonight’s meeting. It was never a factor in their approval, just as it has never been in the past.

Jane: What’s the status of your lawsuit right now? Can you say, or is it still working its way through the system?

Kyle: It’s going through the system. The attorneys are handling it between them. But basically, all we want is to develop our land, just as Ken Schmidt [Vineyard Ridge developer] did, just as everybody else that purchased residential zoned property has done. Each day that goes by, it’s just another day tacked on to what we’ve been waiting to do, and what we’ve been stopped from doing.

Jane: So the Township, the Conservancy, and Jim Young personally, they’re all folded into the same lawsuit?

Kyle: Same lawsuit, yeah, but separate entities.

Jane: Are you also involved in a lawsuit with Preserve Old Mission?

Kyle: No, we are not. Preserve Old Mission is suing the Township for approving the development for a second time. There’s not a lot of legs on that court case, from the mouth of Rob Manigold [Peninsula Township Supervisor] himself. But we’ve had enough of trying to be silent. A few months ago, my father and I went into the Township offices and had a nice conversation with Rob and Brad [Bickle, Peninsula Township Treasurer]. They said it’s a bummer what’s happening. They say that they’re doing everything they can to get our project off the ground. It meets all the requirements. Rob actually mentioned that some things were handled improperly during the approval process. I think he may have been referring to the former Township Board. And the former Township attorney actually said that some things were possibly even illegal. I can’t make that up. That’s what really gives us the backing that what has happened here is wrong. It’s unfortunate, and we’re just hoping to move forward as soon as possible.

Jane: You feel that the conditions that were placed on the 81 approval are too restrictive.

Kyle: Right. We call it a denial in disguise, because no matter what we do, we’re going to be targeted. Even though we have our approval, they’re trying to monitor dust and do this and do that, which is ultimately unrealistic, being that it’s never been done before … somebody wants to say that a speck of dust landed a few inches off the site. Given the approval right now, they’re trying to say that they would have authority to stop progress. We just want to develop our land following the precedent of what’s been done in the past.

Jane: Do you have a target date of when you would like people to actually be living in homes on The 81?

Kyle: Yeah, May of 2016. We’d like to have people living there two years ago. Like I said, it’s a bummer that our first conversation has to be about things that have taken a negative toll on my family, but it is what it is. The people who don’t want us here aren’t going to want to see it, and they don’t care what we have to say. But, as time goes on, how long can you go without a voice? We had to speak up. We should have spoken up a long time ago. But, I think when people see a logo and a company, they can’t really put a family behind that. It’s hard to be empathetic with something that people see as a company versus a family.

Jane: Yeah, for sure.

Kyle: I wish we would have put our name, personally, on different documents and different approvals and different requests. Because, at the end of the day, we’re just a family of four trying to run our business.

Jane: Developers on the Old Mission Peninsula, no matter who they are, usually end up being the bad guy. But what do you want to say to Old Mission Peninsula residents? What is your message that you want to get out there?

Kyle: First, it’s important to note that we are Old Mission Peninsula residents, too. Everybody comes at a different time, but we all stay for the same reasons – because we love the Peninsula. It’s important to realize that we’re not some multi-state corporation.

Jane: I think people can appreciate that.

Kyle: Our project has a vision that Peninsula residents can be proud of. What we’ve done is something that we want the community to share and cherish. Although it may not have gotten off on the right foot, I think over time, as our project continues and residents see the management and thought that we put into it, they’ll see that we want it to be an asset to the community. I want Peninsula residents to be proud of it. We came in and eliminated some of our numbers to make a more beautiful product and take the natural characteristics into place. At the end of the day, we’re a family of the Peninsula. We want to walk around and not be …

Jane: …the villain.

Kyle: Thank you. Because we’re not. We’re a family of four. We have family up here. We have a 98-year-old Grandpa who lives on the Peninsula. He’s the one who brought us up here. I hope people can feel a little more empathy towards somebody’s family and see what three years of delays and negative press can do.

Jane: It’s been a challenging time, for sure.

Kyle: I just want it to be as positive as we can moving forward. We don’t want to go backwards. We didn’t want what happened to have happened. If we would have gotten approved, just like Ken Schmidt did, with no delay and no ridiculous regulations, I think we’d have already had the property developed, with more families enjoying this place that we call home.

Jane: One other thing that came up through the process is that this development is sort of far out from town for a lot of people. Do you have a good feeling that you’re going to be able to sell all the homes and get people in there? Is there already some interest?

Kyle: Yeah, there’s definitely interest from people that we’ve talked to. At the end of the day, it’s going to be a beautiful development, some true up-north living, and a great asset to the community.

81, 81 on east bay, kyle o'grady, kevin o'grady, vicki o'grady, old mission peninsula, old mission news, old mission real estate, old mission michigan, old mission gazette, peninsula township
81 on East Bay Developers (l to r), Kyle O’Grady, Kevin and Vicki O’Grady, Kevin O’Grady | O’Grady Photo

27 COMMENTS

  1. I was glad to read the interview but it only covers one side of the story. For a story like this others who are involved should also have been interviewed. It comes off as a commercial for the 81. This is a very unique piece of land with many 150 year old trees. This development could have been done in many different ways to by protecting a good portion of the shoreline and the trees.

    • Greg,

      The other side of the story has been covered for three years. This is the first article that allows my family to share our side of the story. It was not ‘one-sided’. It was simply a script of a dialogue that was shared between Jane and I.

      Respectfully,
      Kyle

  2. I could not bring myself to read the rest of this article. They ruined trees living for over 100 years, are totally changing the land for people whose families have been there for generations ( not for “four years”). This development is heartbreaking. It’s all about making money.

  3. Change the zoning before someone has invested their money because residence have no business at that point telling someone what to do or increase their costs. If the property was soooo valuable then buy it. This sounds like good old fashion extortion. Mob rules by citizens. Great—that’s the kind of community I live in. Oh, I’m third generation Old Mission resident who’s family has been in manufacturing (thank God) cause I would not have the patience for “development by citizenry”.

    • Hey Bob,

      I think the vast majority of people would agree with you if they invested their time into learning the facts and the reality of what has occurred. I recommend citizens read the lawsuit before commenting on the matter.

      Thank you for your words of support.

      Cheers,
      Kyle

  4. I wish the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy had purchased this land. I’m not sure why they didn’t. Also, I’m not sure I trust what Kyle O’Grady says. His refrain about theirs being a small family business sounds hollow and makes me suspicious. They are in it for major money.

  5. I don’t understand some of these comments! Of course they are in it for the money – as they should be – just like every other business owner or employee. Do we all not go to work to make money?? Just because they will be making money doesn’t mean they are horrible “suspicious” people, or that they don’t care about creating and developing this project to the best of their ability. The Conservancy, Township, and any other individuals all had their opportunity to buy this property as it was for sale for A LONG TIME, yet nobody stepped up. It’s crazy how obsessive some people have become over this property. This owner and development have been drug through the mud for years, and if Kyle O’Grady’s claims are true, then shame on the Township Board, Attorney Jim Young, and the Conservancy. Nobody should be proud of this behavior regardless of how you feel about this development!!!

  6. There is plenty of blame on both sides starting with the lack of the Twp board bringing the Master Plan in congruency with zoning, the developers veiled threat of more Home sites etc, etc, etc. The ultimate failure is the inability of both sides to reason together and reach a compromise. The Peninsula as a whole has lost and I personally must live next to a polluted development that is likely to become an Air B&B slum. Yes I feel badly for the 4 O’Gradys but I don’t hear them feeling sorry for the immediate neighbors

    • Jayne, I do not understand the Airbnb slum comment. I live near the 81, and our neighborhood is a mix of working families and retirees with homes in the $600K to well over $1M range. Only one house in the 20 homes nearest me is a 2nd home, a couple who have family in the area. Our neighborhood is populated with people who work at the hospital, in local restaurants, insurance agencies, banks, at NMC. Yes, some of the retirees leave for a few months in the winter, and no, none of my neighbors grew up here. Some have lived here for 20 years, others for 6 months. But they are all wonderful people who give back to the community and I, for one, welcome them.

      • I also live near the 81 and I wonder exactly how this development will fit into our neighborhood given the reality of the economics and demographics of the TC area. This development is dense , far out from town and likely to be super expensive given these are waterfront lots . I doubt the community will continue the greatness of our neighborhood as it is likely to only attract the very wealthy and not continue a good mix of all people. We have owned our land, paid taxes and had a commitment to OMP since 1989 and continue to give back to the community through work and volunteerism. I pray I am wrong but I fear people will buy property in the 81 and hope to make a profit on making their house an Air BNB rather than make it a home. We will be left with increased traffic and noise. And if you are unaware of the impact that Bnbs have, please attend a two meeting as they struggle with this issue or read about what’s going on in nearby communities. It’s a national issue in areas that rely on tourism. I will be happy to see if you and others who have posted are right that the development will be an asset

        • Just to be clear, I am neither for nor against The 81. I don’t like the double standards and hypocrisy that I see out here. Regarding Airbnb, too many people use that term to encompass a broad list of issues. I own vacation rentals in areas where they are legal. There are vacation rentals, which are not legal in Traverse City or on Old Mission (and I do not see that changing in the forseeable future). And there are tourist homes or home sharing (Airbnb’s), which are legal in Traverse City with severe restrictions. The young man who started Responsible Home Sharing in TC is trying to get the rules loosened to allow owner occupied homes the ability to share there homes without the owner being present. The nationwide hysteria over “airbnb’s” has been drummed up by the hotel lobbies. I just do not believe that a bunch of “wealthy” people are going to build in The 81, then rent there homes out illegally. And if you are a successful business owner or professional in TC and want a view of the lake, where do you live? Old Mission. That is the demographic I am seeing in my neighborhood.

  7. Jayne,
    It was OK when you built your home. I’ve seen the O’grady homes and they are a first class operation. Every person that is against this development built their home at some point and it was no problem then. Hypocrisy at it finest!

    • Yes but we did not over crowd an area with homes nor did we remove trees, contaminate our neighbors with lead and arsenic soil nor cause a sensitive slope to be subject to erosion into the bay. It is not hypocritical to try and seek harmony with your surroundings and be environmentally sensitive. Why is the right of a family of four to become millionaires trump what’s best for all. The lack of compromise is the real hypocrisy.

  8. Your comments remind me of a book that my grandma used to read to me called “ the sky is falling”. I guess the bottom line is you should have bought the property when it was on sale for years and you could have turned it into a nature preserve.

  9. As the wonderful musician Joni Mitchell once said:
    “Pave paradise and put up a parking lot.”
    Oh yeah — and she also said: “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”

    • Sally , I too think Joni Mitchell is a wonderful musician. The O’Grady‘s are not making a trailer park or a parking lot they are going to be beautiful homes with beautiful landscaping and beautiful people living there. Have a blessed day

      • As someone who grew up on OMP and moved away 30+ years ago, when I return “home” on summer visits to family, and see what it has become, it fills me with enormous sadness. OMP has been “loved” to death. More “big beautiful homes” that often sell to people who stay in them maybe a month out of the year (ex. like the 8000 sq. ft. McMansions of the long-gone Underwood Farms), have replaced the irreplaceable. But God knows, people gotta have that 5th? 6th? home, I suppose . . .

  10. Sally , you are so right! Remains to be seen what will happen on the 81. It could be interesting as the Cove next door took almost 20 years to build out after the land was developed. And those are beautiful homes which aren’t crammed on half acre lots.

    • Jayne,

      We could have asked for 32 more units with a PUD. We are preserving 65% open space. Do you happen to know how much open space The Cove preserved? I’m genuinly curious.

      Respectfully,
      Kyle

  11. I’m curious as to why those of you who complain about the removal of trees are not complaining about the raping of the land at Vineyard Ridge? They removed everything! But because the owner is a Schmidt and well known, not a peep from anyone. It is hypocritical. Also, Preserve Old Mission is not trying to preserve old mission. They want to stop the 81, and that’s it. So the name “Preserve Old Mission” is disingenuous.

    • Susan,

      I completely agree. Both developments are proceeding according to zoning standards… The 81 is being held to a higher standard above and beyond the zoning ordinance and faces more critisicm. It seems a bit hypocritical. Also, I am not aware of any other efforts of to preserve land on behalf of “Preserve Old Mission Peninsula” besides targeting the 81. Please let me know if I may be misspeaking.

      Sincerely,
      Kyle

  12. Now that this has come to pass, my concern is why the trees were allowed to be cut during a period that MSU recommends be avoided due to oak wilt — which was found in Pelizzari last fall. They trimmed and cut the trees there in November to reduce the risk of infecting other oaks on the rest of the peninsula. Was oak wilt infecting any of the trees on the 81 property? Did anyone check before the cutting began? The peninsula’s roads and properties are lined with red oaks — many of them old growth. If this disease is given an opportunity to spread, the impact would be devastating — with permanent repercussions. http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/stop_pruning_oak_trees_now_to_avoid_oak_wilt_1
    “Homeowners can reduce the risk of oak wilt infections by not pruning or otherwise injuring oaks after April 15. While high risk of infection decreases to lower risk after mid-July, it’s prudent to simply avoid pruning oak trees from just prior to bud break to leaf drop. This means April to November.”

  13. Wasn’t the hiring of the arborist one of the conditions required in the twp’s approval of the 81 and is not a usual requirement? I do believe it was and not a volunteer action on the part of the developer. Pleas correct me if I’m wrong

    • You are 100% correct, Jayne. It has never been a requirement. Similar to many other ‘requirements’ that have been foisted upon us.

      Thank you for clarifying!

      Respectfully,
      Kyle

  14. Double standard for sure on development process on Old Mission. Didn’t need to come to this had the parties tried a bit harder to work together and compromise. The O’Grady family appears to have been willing to amend and revise from the beginning. In the end, the attorneys usually win. One thing is for sure, the future residents of the development will love living on Old Mission-think we can all agree one is quite blessed to have the opportunity. As for the Airbnb comment, quite certain last time I checked only monthly rentals were allowed. Slums are not in your future. Love they neighbor. ✌️

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