Marty Lagina speaks during the public comment time at the combined meeting of the Peninsula Township Board and Planning Commission | Jane Boursaw Photo
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At last week’s combined meeting of the Township Board and Planning Commission, a discussion and public hearing on building heights sparked controversy among residents.

The issue centers on Section 6.8 of the Zoning Ordinance, which notes that the maximum height of structures in stories in Peninsula Township is 2 1/2, and the maximum height is 35 feet.

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However, as noted in a memo by Township Planner Jenn Cram in the meeting packet (view the agenda and packet for the Nov. 14, 2023 meeting on the Township website here), structures have been permitted that exceed these numbers. That’s because the definition of how building height is measured has been interpreted differently by past zoning administrators. The proposed ordinance change is to clarify those numbers and definitions pertaining to them.

Part of the issue involves whether to measure a building’s height on only the front elevation or all four building elevations, and whether a walk-out basement that is partially or completely above ground should be counted within that 2 1/2 stories or 35 feet.

Several builders, architects and realtors were at the meeting and expressed dismay with the proposed ordinance change, which they say limits their clients’ ability to build aesthetic and sustainable homes in Peninsula Township. Several also noted that the ordinance change promotes horizontal spread, rather than being able to build vertically.

After a lengthy discussion and several comments during the public hearing, it was decided that Township Planner Jenn Cram will meet with several of the individuals who spoke at the meeting in a work study session to clarify the definitions of basement, building, height of, and half story, and to determine the best course of action.

Have a comment? Tell us in the comments section at the bottom of this story.

Peninsula Township resident Marty Lagina speaks during the public comment time at the combined meeting of the Peninsula Township Board and Planning Commission | Jane Boursaw Photo
Peninsula Township resident Marty Lagina speaks during the public comment time at the combined meeting of the Peninsula Township Board and Planning Commission | Jane Boursaw Photo

Land Uses Within Zoning Districts – What’s Allowed?

Also at the meeting, a public hearing was held on a proposed change to Amendment 6.5.1, which centers on the idea that if a land use is not specifically noted within a zone district, is it considered to be prohibited or not allowed. The goal of this amendment is to prohibit land uses that are not compatible within a zone district, such as heavy industrial uses adjacent to residential uses and/or agricultural uses.

As Jenn noted in her memo in the packet, the amendment helps to clarify the status quo, but it does not change any of the uses or activities that are customary or incidental to any of the principal and accessory uses currently noted in the zoning ordinance.

As an example, a single-family dwelling is a land use that is allowed by right in the R-1A zone district. This dwelling is the principal or primary use of the land. As part of the single-family residential land use, there’s a detached garage that is accessory to the dwelling. Changing the oil in a car in that accessory garage is a customary and/or incidental use of land/structure under the principal use of land for a single-family dwelling.

Likewise, children playing in their yards or hosting friends and family for a barbeque are customary and incidental activities to a single-family residential use. As such, all of these customary and incidental uses do not have to be specifically noted in the zoning ordinance.

However, during the public comment time – and in Lou Santucci’s opinion piece posted last week – it is unclear exactly which customary and incidental uses apply to the amendment. As someone noted at the meeting, it might be ok to have a small family basketball game in a driveway, but could you also have a basketball game with a full team of players in the driveway? As with the building heights discussion, more clarification is necessary.

After a lengthy discussion and several comments during the public hearing, it was determined to defer action on this amendment change to a later unspecified time, possibly during the ordinance rewrite.

Also at the meeting:

Resolution regarding Purchase of Development Rights (PDR Program). The Township Board agreed to allow Laura Rigan, Farmland Program Manager for the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy – which partners with Peninsula Township on the PDR program – to “execute, endorse, and deliver in the name of and on behalf of the Township, any and all documentation needed to submit grant applications for supplemental or matching funds to relevant funding sources, including but not limited to, the United State Department of Agriculture and the Michigan Department of Agricultural and Rural Development.”

Cemetery Ordinance. The Township Board agreed to adopt changes to the Cemetery Ordinance, which can be found in the meeting packet here, beginning on page 102.

New Fire Truck. Peninsula Township Fire Chief Fred Gilstorff gave a presentation involving the purchase of a new fire truck, which will replace the 25-year-old Engine 2. The Township Board voted unanimously to purchase the new truck. View the presentation and information in the packet here.

Kelley Park Boat Launch News. Township Clerk Becky Chown announced that the Township is receiving a Waterway Grant in the amount of $605,350.94 from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. This grant will fund half the cost of construction of a boat launch at Kelley Park in the village of Old Mission. View the resolution that was approved in the meeting packet here, on page 156.

Becky said the Township will continue to raise funds for the other half of the cost, which includes funds from the Grand Traverse County commissioners, who agreed in September to provide $125,000 for Peninsula Township parks, with $25,000 annually set to go to capital improvement projects on the Old Mission Peninsula over the next five years. For more on this, read Beth Milligan’s piece in The Ticker here.

View the entire meeting in the video below. If it doesn’t show up on your screen, see if the video is still available on the Township’s YouTube page here.

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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.

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  1. Jane, good summary of the meeting. Maybe going forward there can be a different approach to the hot button issues. A meeting where back and forth with residents and town officials is held would go a long way to getting things right.
    The meeting also made clear that the charter town idea is not dead. The meeting that was held to explain it earlier this fall demonstrated that most residents there were not in favor.

  2. Yes it is clear that many zoning issues need more of an initial round table discussion with interested residents before an amendment is drafted to be voted on by planners without even a discussion on whether residents even want a change. Get the input of the residents pro and con. Regards, Curt Peterson

  3. From the Michigan Chapter of the American Planning Association:
    The Planning Commission provides community leadership on local planning and development policy. The Planning Commission is an appointed body that advises the legislative body on planning matters. The Planning Commission has the responsibility to prepare a master plan, which influences the regulations and standards in the zoning ordinance and any future changes to it.

    The Planning Commission is also the primary body responsible for approval of Site Plans. Commissioners are responsible to ensure that new development fits the community’s vision for a given site, with help from professional staff or consultants. Planning Commissions also have responsibility for Special Use approvals. In some communities, they have the sole power to approve or deny Special Use applications, while in others they recommend approval or denial to the elected officials.

    Finally, the Planning Commission is the main forum for discussion of changes to the Zoning Ordinance text and map. Changes can be proposed by property owners, the general public, or the Planning Commission itself, but regardless, the Planning Commission must hold a public hearing before recommending any zoning changes to the community’s elected body.


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