Fall Colors on the Old Mission Peninsula; Chateau Chantal looking west | Jane Boursaw Photo
Fall Colors on the Old Mission Peninsula; Chateau Chantal looking west | Jane Boursaw Photo

(Editor’s Note: At the Peninsula Township Board meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 7 p.m. at the Township Hall, the agenda includes this item to be presented by the Township’s attorney, Greg Miehn: “State of Michigan Statutory Presentation on Airbnbs and Short-Term Rentals.” – jb)

At the October meeting of the Peninsula Township Planning Commission, a public hearing was held to attempt to rush through an entire re-write of the Township’s zoning ordinance. This public hearing was not well identified or publicized as to its purpose.

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In addition, the zoning ordinance that had been worked on by the Planning Commission and its Zoning Rewrite Committee suddenly had last-minute changes by the staff, one of whom happens to also sit on the Township Board. That, to me, is a conflict of interest that could come back to haunt the Township at some point in the future.

In any event, it was clear that the Planning Commission members had not seen these changes in advance, and that these changes, some of which were significant, were buried in the addition to the meeting packet.

To its credit, the Planning Commission did vote to extend the public hearing to their meeting on November 16. Nevertheless, it is my opinion that the commission should table this until late spring 2021 in order to allow all residents to comment. Many of our residents will be at their second home before this proposal gets its final approval by the Planning Commission or Township Board.

To be clear, there are major changes in this proposal, and I will address just a few of them so that folks can see this is not just cosmetic in nature, as many were led to believe. In addition, it is my opinion that some of them were an underhanded way to slip in zoning changes that should be publicly addressed more fully.

Here are just a few of the proposed changes:

1. Farmers and other homeowners could find themselves running a “junkyard” and be forced to build an eight-foot masonry fence! And you would be subject to fines because you may have farm equipment or cars on your property in need of repair. Or maybe you have debris – however the zoning folks decide to define that as making your yard a junkyard.

If you have a vehicle or farm equipment lying around for more than 15 days and not running – or in the case of cars, trucks or boats, not registered – then you are a junkyard and have to build an eight-foot masonry wall to screen it. Farm trucks are often only registered for the time period they are in use. This zoning change goes against what is allowed by the Secretary of State.

2. Homeowners’ association rights with regard to docks and hoists etc. would be stripped away. Your homeowners association would no longer be in charge of who can approve your dock or hoist. The revised ordinance would dictate that all people who share the area need to approve it, regardless of the rules and regulations in your association covenants or bylaws.

Imagine one person holding up your enjoyment of a dock. This makes the majority subject to the whims of one or more persons. Wow. I see this as a money-making opportunity for some homeowner who wants to hold everyone hostage.

3. A reasonable compliance time for remedying a violation would drop. The current ordinance provides that a violation must be corrected within 15 days. The proposed ordinance drops that time to seven days. In the one that was snuck in at the last minute, the time period for compliance after notice was eliminated. In short, you would be subject to fines as soon as you got the notice if you did not correct the violation.

This is one of the major changes added by the zoning administrators. As far as I can tell, this was not requested by the Planning Commission, and the staff was hoping they could pop this in. I am of the opinion that the staff exceeded its authority in doing this and other changes that were not asked for or discussed by the commission.

In addition, it is the Planning Commission and not the staff that should be proposing and writing changes, especially when not asked. To try and slip them by at the last minute is egregious and underhanded.

4. The short-term rental ban includes a ban on allowing a friend to stay in your home should he “pay” for that stay. The current zoning ordinance allows a homeowner to rent a room in their own home. It does not forbid it. In fact, the way the current zoning ordinance reads, only one zoning district is not allowed to rent a residence for less than 30 days, and that restriction is limited to whole house rental and does not apply to a room in your house.

When the new zoning amendments were proposed, there was a limit on whole house rentals in every district, but it was limited to the whole house and not a room! Then once again in the last-minute packet – again not requested by the commission, as far as I can see from the minutes – two new provisions were added. One related to adding the rental of a room in your house to the ban on rentals of less than 30 days. The other relates to advertising of your room or residence.

In my opinion, this language is so vague that if you allow a friend or any non member of your family to stay in your house and he gives you a bottle of wine, maybe from a local winery, or takes you to dinner, maybe to a Peninsula restaurant, for example, you would be violating the ordinance. Is that what you think is a good idea?

5. Restriction on advertising is a prior restraint of free speech and violates the First Amendment. The new language added in the proposed ordinance indicates that if you advertise your room for a short-term rental, it is per se an admission that you intend to violate the ordinance. I find the whole idea of restricting my free commercial speech – which is protected by the Constitution – a bad idea and against the principles of this country.

On that note, I also find the whole idea of the Township hiring a company to spy on us, which they have been asked to consider, as a step down a dark path when it comes to our rights. Is this what we want our Township to spend their money on? I hope not. In addition, the thought that my money is spent to send a Township employee around looking for zoning code violations is against the whole idea of an amicable relationship.

What’s Next?

Given all of this, shouldn’t we slow this process down? My suggestion is we table this until May 2021 and address sections of the ordinance in a deliberate fashion. Say take the first five each week. Have the staff explain what each section is meant to do, how it differs from the current ordinance, and why the Planning Commission and not the staff thinks it needs to be changed.

For any new ideas such as Airbnbs, I suggest we continue to hold informal meetings to discuss proposals from the Airbnb interested parties to make this work. The Peninsula needs to look forward and embrace change, not for the sake of change, but to provide for new and innovative life for the Peninsula and its many visitors. Insular approaches will only hasten the demise of this beautiful community.

In addition, does everyone who finds the “no” wall thrown up against them need to sue in order to get the Township off its high horse? I hope not. This township finds itself subject to lawsuits too often. Do they have an endless insurance bankroll? What happens if they have to move to self insurance? Then we the taxpayers pay. Let’s work together rather than be in perpetual conflict.

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Bay View Insurance of Traverse City Michigan

9 COMMENTS

  1. I’m a new resident of the peninsula (two years) and it appears the peninsula is vying for my tax dollars anyway they can. I believe (emphasis on believe) they want to prematurely tax a new structure in my property that hasn’t been completed.

  2. I completely agree with your opinions, Jane. It seems that the restrictions of the pandemic are giving opportunists a green light to try to push through changes. Many of the changes affect the very nature of peninsula (rural) living. I hope that the first person that is required to build a 8′ tall masonry fence “wall” will paint it a flashy hot pink color to make a statement.

    I also think that the Township Attorney is relied upon almost exclusively by the Township Staff, Boards, and committees. The more bad advice he gives equals the more work (perceived value) when the Township has to fight the lawsuits. Why would he want to give advice that doesn’t give his firm more work? When was the last time the Township won a lawsuit brought against them?

  3. To be crystal clear. This is the definition of JUNKYARD in the proposed ordinance: “Junkyard. Any establishment or premises where any motor vehicle, machinery, appliance, product or merchandise, scrap metal, or other scrap materials that are damaged, deteriorated, or in a condition that prevents their use for the purpose for which they were intended are bought, kept, sold, and/or stored. A ‘junkyard’ shall include any premises upon which one or more unlicensed used motor vehicles that cannot be operated under their own power are kept or stored for a period of 15 days or more.” So, Mr Santucci, a farmer who has a vehicle that does not have a valid license must also meet the requirement of not being able to be operated under its own power. Perhaps you would wish to print a clarification of your statement.

    • Oops a minor miss, Thank you for the clarification. nevertheless it would apply to farm equipment subject to licensing and that is a lot of equipment and the township could call it debris if it so chose. Imagine if someone has three tractors in their yard not in running condition do you think the complainers would stand for that. also at a town meeting a fellow who has an antique car collection said that his cars may sit there for months while he repairs them. And don’t forget the attempt to do away with.a notice provision. This smacks of highhandedness with no real justification.

  4. My apologies, Mr. Santucci, for not giving your credit. I also agree with your rebuttal.

    Per the ordinance on junkyards, I’ll bet that nearly half of the properties on the peninsula have, “scrap metal, or other scrap materials that are damaged, deteriorated, or in a condition that prevents their use for the purpose for which they were intended are bought, kept, sold, and/or stored.” That scrap wood for your fireplace kindling? Infraction! The gutter that broke off your house during a storm which can’t be fixed by a contractor or handyman for another month or two? Infraction!

    How about our actual Peninsula junkyard? Will they pay to have their fences replaced by 8′ masonry walls?

  5. ………Was just thinking today about how “junkyard like”, the old Big Jon building was looking…Perhaps the township should develop some “best practices”, before throwing stones…!

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