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Keweenaw Development

Some Harbor Web Editor Views On Keweenaw Development Issues

For subsequent correspondence, please go to Opinion 2

Township ZoningLetter to Township Board Regarding Proposed Interim Zoning Ordinance

February 9, 2007

Eagle Harbor Township Board
3231 Center Street
Eagle Harbor, MI 49950

RE: Proposed Interim Zoning Ordinance and Interim Zoning Map

Dear Board Members,

There are many positive things to say for the Interim Zoning Ordinance and Zoning Map that have been recommended to you by the Township Planning Commission.

The recommended ordinance effectively deals with much of the ambiguity that has plagued the Keweenaw County ordinance in effect in the township since 1975; providing more precise definition and explanation of zoning terms and procedures and more clearly setting forth the implementation processes and decision standards. It greatly strengthens our capacity to protect important natural and cultural resources, adequately address many long term troublesome situations such as home occupations and accessory storage buildings, and puts in place provisions for managing newly emerging land uses such as wind power farms and expanding recreational facilities.

The recommended interim ordinance and map is an impressive body of work, potentially of great value to the township as it pursues the Eagle Harbor Township development objectives and strategies set forth in the Blueprint For Tomorrow comprehensive plan, and a great credit to the planning commission members and township officials who have worked so thoughtfully and diligently in its preparation.

Challenges remain, not the least of which is to establish broad community understanding and support for effective zoning regulation as a means to achieve our collective well being as a community. It will not be easy – we are not embarking with a clean slate. We have a collection of structures and uses often not established with much regard to the niceties of such things as setbacks or compliance with someone else’s idea of appropriate use. Much of our existing development pattern, especially in the platted town, is an accident of history, most of it happily so, but reflective of times when housing, work and community service needs were different as were attitudes about such things as resource protection. Even of late, due in part to the County’s heretofore lasses-faire approach to zoning, many of us have operated pretty much without restraint, other than self-imposed, as we developed and used our properties.

Fortunately, as our town officials you have demonstrated considerable awareness of this challenge, trying to keep everybody aware of what’s going on through the town’s web site and adding financial and staff resources to assure effective zoning implementation. Nonetheless, this is a very complex ordinance, more complex than any I worked with in my 16 years of developing and administering planning and zoning for rapidly developing suburbs, or in the ten years of my corporate developer role attempting to unravel them. I, therefore, strongly urge you to utilize the interim period before consideration of the final ordinance and map to aggressively promote workshops and discussion sessions about this matter, especially during the coming summer when most of our seasonal residents and property owners will be present.

I also urge that you request the Planning Commission to review during the interim the questions and suggestions that I, and perhaps others, present at your hearing. My questions focus on the expansion of commercial Resort Service zoning thought-out the township, the broad definition of allowable commercial uses allowed within that zoning district, and the justification for adding business and manufacturing districts.

Specifically, why rezone the harbor’s two entry points, the Light Station property on the west point and the Harbor Marina, former Life-Saving Station, property on the east point from residential, RR, to commercial, RS? Both properties are in either government or non-profit ownership, afford public access for sightseeing, recreational or park use, and have historic significance. Conservation of these “public” properties, not conversion in part or in total to commercial use, would seem to better serve the purposes of the township’s comprehensive plan. Options, in addition to retention of RR, might include the establishment of an historic district, or broadening the definition of the Conservation Environmental Protection district to incorporate public parks and historic properties.

In the same vein, why rezone the harbor shore lands, from the rock outcrops west of the harbor entry all the way west and south to the Shoreline Resort, including the town’s arguably most important natural resource, the west swimming beach, from residential, RR, to commercial. RS? Once again, the Conservation Environmental Protection district would seem more appropriate.

In part, my concern about these two proposed rezonings and others I’ll mention in a moment, is prompted by the broad list of commercial activities permitted either by right (R), by condition (RC), or by Special Permit in the Resort Service (RS) districts. The stated purpose of the RS districts “is to provide recreation or vacation convenience goods and services (restaurants, lodging, small gift shops, outdoor outfitters, etc) for families living in or tourists using the variety of resort or vacation areas in the township.” The listed examples of permitted (R) uses include restaurants, bars and taverns, delicatessens, hotels, rental, sales and repair of guns, appliances, medical and dental clinics, and drug stores. And in the RS-2 district (marina), examples also include night clubs, stores selling, leasing or renting new or used consumer, home and business goods and even tattoo shops and flea markets. And special uses (requires public review) examples in the RS-2 district include self-storage facilities, gasoline stations and auto service and repair shops.

Would any of this activity make sense at the light station or the marina, or along the harbor’s west shore lands? Or for that matter along the scenic and tourism important Mountain Drive, where the recommended Zoning Map establishes 320 acres of RS-2 zoning to accommodate a proposed back country ski slope (a use. that seems appropriate for the location, but might be better handled as a conditional or special use in the Resort Residential district), or atop Brockway Mountain to accommodate the existing nonconforming, but legal, gift shop?

It’s important to recognize that zoning establishes R and RC use rights in perpetuity, including all the uses listed as examples and others similar, without further public review, regardless of ownership. Future permitted uses might and probably will vary significantly from that now existing or now proposed.

I have the same concern about the proposed rezoning from RR to RS-1 of the Lake Breeze property and the historic old Eagle School, now Community Building. The Lake Breeze Resort is currently a legal nonconforming use, and would remain so if the current RR zoning were retained. It’s an important historical property, and the present use, a twelve room hotel without food service is unobtrusive and a desirable neighbor. But when I review the listing of allowable uses if the property is rezoned RS, the potential impact on the nearby residential properties, including mine, could be significant, far more intense than the current use. Would not it be better, and more beneficial to its neighborhood, to allow the present use to continue, and then, at such time as the present or future owners of the property, seek an alternative use, to consider the appropriateness of such proposed use based on its merit, consistency with the then existing comprehensive plan, and the use’s impact on neighboring properties. The same argument would seem appropriate for the School/Community building property. The Community building is currently a permitted use within its existing district.

And then there is the dilemma of existing illegal uses and lapsed nonconforming uses being perpetuated by the recommended rezoning. The Carriage House, now zoned RR, formerly occupied as a home and summer cottage, and then long after the 1975 ordinance was adopted, converted to commercial use, a gift shop, without zoning review and approval, unfortunately not an uncommon occurrence given the County’s apparent distain for zoning enforcement. It’s an illegal use. A commercial activity set in a summer cottage neighborhood serving the gift desires of people visiting our historic lighthouse. Would the township establish RS zoning on this residential property if the current use was not there, I’d think not given the restrictions you are placing even on retail home occupations. So why the proposal to zone the property RS, allowing not only the current use but also any of the other uses permitted in the RS district. It’s a sticky wicket – the Kipfers, the owner operators are our friends and good Harbor neighbors, but is the use appropriate given the residential setting. Perhaps given the apparent sanction by inattentive County officials, the present owners could be granted some sort of a hardship variance, without establishing the commercial use of the property in perpetuity, as the proposed rezoning would do.

The lapsed nonconforming use is the property on the corner of the Cutoff Road and M-26. It’s zoned residential, was for years legally nonconforming, but has been shut down more than sufficiently long to have the nonconforming status lapse. It’s across the road from the Shoreline, also now a nonconforming use, suggesting an argument for the recommended RS zoning, but it is also contiguous to residentially zoned property, across the street from residential homes whose owners have made substantial investments in maintaining and upgrading. Perhaps if a commercial use compatible with these nearby residential properties is proposed, the request can be considered on its merits, but to simply zone the property to RS, allowing whatever of the long list of allowed RS to plant itself there without opportunity for review seems a risky roll of the dice, potentially to the detriment of the parcel’s neighbors.

And lastly, what is the justification or need for the proposed rezoning of the parcels along Highway 41 east of the Cutoff Road and at Delaware to B-1 Business (along 41) and Manufacturing Light and Manufacturing Heavy (at Delaware)? These are intense land uses, in my view inconsistent with the Blueprint for Tomorrow comprehensive plan that underlies the township’s zoning recommendations. Neither the special planning task force the Township Board established in 2001 to assist the Board in its representation of township interests in the County’s development of the Blueprint for Tomorrow planning document, nor the subsequent 2003 task force the Board established to assist in the County’s deliberations over the now emerging County Zoning Ordinance, recommended the antiestablishment of Business or Manufacturing districts within Eagle Harbor Township – quite to the contrary. The recommendations of both task forces were reviewed and approved by the Township Board before transmittal to the County.

The present township Planning Commission argues that the Michigan Township Enabling Act, adopted in 2006, prevents the township from totally precluding such uses. They cite Sec. 207 of the Act. It reads, “A zoning ordinance or zoning decision shall not have the effect of totally prohibiting the establishment of a land use within a local unit of government in the presence of a demonstrated need for that land use within either that local unit of government or the surrounding area within the state, unless a location within the local unit of government does not exist where the use may be appropriately located or the use is unlawful.” (Underlining added)

This language does not appear to prevent the preclusion of general business and manufacturing districts in the township. It conditions its mandate based on demonstrated need. Perhaps the township should seek an opinion on this issue from a knowledgeable zoning attorney or expert. It’s an important question.

In light of the intensity of the recommended Business and Manufacturing land uses, the fact that they would be established on lands the “Blueprint” suggested be designated for Timber Resource, and the fact that to the best of my knowledge no township land owner has requested such zoning, I believe it would be reasonable for the Township Board to ask the Planning Commission what evidence exists to support, “a demonstrated need for that land use” within the township. Would not it also be the burden of a Business or Manufacturing district zoning applicant to demonstrate the need in support of such an application, not the township? I would urge the Board not to act on these Business and Manufacturing district recommendations until the demonstrated need can be supported.

Notwithstanding these concerns and questions, and with the possible exceptions of the proposed Zoning Map changes on the Brockway Drive, Highway 41, and at Delaware, I would encourage the Board to adopt the recommended Interim Zoning Ordinance and Interim Zoning Map without further ado. The recommendations are on the whole a solid piece of work, and will serve the beast interests of the Township during the interim. We can use the interim period to review and possibly address the issues I have raised, and others might raise.

I thank you for your consideration.

George Hite
277 East North Street
Eagle Harbor

Tuesday, October 31, 2000.Posting On Keweenaw Issues

Big Impact, Little Impact, Good Idea, Bad Idea ?

Is, as its promoters claim, the Mt. Bohemia ski hill to be, "Next to Michigan Tech, the biggest contributor to the Keweenaw Economy"? Or, is it to be, as they also claim, simply a business activity of such little impact that it can be quietly tucked away in a Keweenaw County zoning district (CD-EP) created for the preservation of lands considered either unsuitable for development, or necessary to be reserved for forestry and mineral extraction? It's hard to believe it could be both. Are they trying to have it both ways?

Most likely, it's neither. Perhaps a plus for our all too snow dependent winter tourism trade, but hardly worthy of being hyped as in the same league as Tech. That's a bit like promoting the beautiful little Eagle River Bridge as "Next to the Portage Bridge, the biggest of Keweenaw bridges." Tech with its nearly $400 million physical plant, its $164 million annual budget, it's nearly 1,500 well paying jobs, and its 6,000 resident students is clearly the champ of the local heavyweight economic impact class.

In contrast, the ski hill promoters hawk an investment in ski facilities of less than 1% of Tech's plant, and proclaim a seasonal job base that is probably less than employed at just Tech's Student Union. The ski hill's economic punch would be the new money it attracts to the Copper Country; i.e., lodging, meal and entertainment dollars spent by skiers who don't live here. No one has publicized the estimated number of these snow season, mostly weekend, out-of-town visitors, but it's hard to imagine the dollars they might spend as more than a tiny fraction of what Tech's 6,000 students plunk into our Copper Country economy in the eight or nine months of their daily residence here - not to mention the dollars spent by their visiting families and friends.

Second only to Tech in economic impact? Makes one wonder about the relative economic impact of our forestry industry, our public schools and governments, our medical service systems, our summer vacationers, the snowmobilers, the "color season" travelers, yes, even the wave of retirees building and living in our community. Surely they have more impact than ski hills.

P.T.Barnum would be proud of whoever came up with the all too clever "Next to Tech" nonsense.

That's not to say a ski hill won't have impact on the lands it occupies or on the use and enjoyment of neighboring properties. Indeed, the promoter's claim that the facility will attract nearly 76,000 skiers to the Lac La Belle slopes by its fifth year of operation suggests that this is hardly an activity that few would notice. That's a lot of people, a lot of vehicles, a lot of commotion in and about the Lac La Belle community. By comparison, the Porcupine Mountains ski hill attracted less than a third as many skiers in the last big snow year ('95-'96), and has since averaged just a bit over 16,000 skiers a season.

A ski hill on Mt Bohemia of the scale proposed may not be the economic bonanza it's promoters hype, but in terms of its operational impact on neighboring public and private facilities, it's hardly, as its promoters claim, a low intensity use of land.

A few recent visitors to the ski hill construction site have commented on how well the facility seems to be blending into the host hill - concluding that the facility is indeed a low intensity use of the land. That's akin to making an intensity of use judgement about a football stadium or a fair ground based on a visit to the site on a non-game or non-fair date. The key word in the zoning phrase "low intensity use" is "use". "Looks" are important, but the test of a facility's impact on the use and enjoyment of neighboring properties, its impact on local public facilities, its impact on nearby natural resources; and, as importantly, its consistency with the purposes for which the zoning district in which it is located was created, is what's going on when it's in operation.

The prospect of 76,000 skiers, their vehicles, busses, and scores of maintenance, supply and waste removal trucks and equipment all milling about Lac La Belle over the three, possibly four, months of a good snow season hardly fits a rational definition of a low intensity use. Nor does it seem consistent with the purposes for which the current zoning was created. It might be a good idea, but lets not fool ourselves - a ski hill is a busy place.

So, if we are not to blindly swoon at the economic impact hype excesses, or be lulled into indifference by pastoral mountain scenes, what are we to make of this ski hill proposal? Is it a good thing, or not?

Probably good, certainly for those of us who able to enjoy downhill skiing. And, for all of us if it's well planned, with adequate public oversight to assure that appropriate measures are taken to mitigate any possible adverse operational impacts on nearby private properties, and on public facilities and resources.

It's important to note that a "ski hill" is not the same as a "ski resort". A ski resort, with its attendant restaurants, bars, retail shops, conference facilities, and rental and for sale housing, etc. is a very different and much more intrusive use. The "Porkies" and Ripley are ski hills. Indianhead and Boyne Mountain are ski resorts.

The proposed ski hill's economic impact is insignificant compared to Tech's, but, nonetheless, important. Our collective economic well-being is increasingly dependent on the accumulative effect of hundreds of smaller investments in new businesses, recreational projects, public institutions, and housing. There are not likely any "Tech league" blockbuster economic impact investments in our future.

Our economic strength, as well as our strength as a livable community, depends on how well we plan for, how carefully and critically we review, and how skillfully we coordinate the development of these smaller individual investments.

Adequate public oversight, comprehensive planning and coordination of individual effort are exactly what have been missing from the Lac La Belle ski hill deliberation. That's correctable.

Keweenaw County voters can start making these corrections next Tuesday.

Monday, March 6th 2000.George's "Almost" Daily Journal. Things are heating up around here - and it's not just the weather. The latest fuss is about a proposal to develop a ski hill and related facilities on the south face of Mount Bohemia, the side of the hill that looms over quiet Lac La Belle and Bete Grise.

The hill, like most land in Keweenaw, is owned by Champion International (about to be merged with a Finnish paper company), and the ski facility developer is a company called Crosswinds of Novi, Michigan. I know little about Crosswinds' development or citizenship track record, or their credentials as a ski facility developer/operator, nor, to the best of my knowledge, does anyone else around here. That apparently includes the County Board, which is being asked to rezone the property (700 acres!) to a resort classification (the way Copper Harbor is zoned), and apply for about a million dollars in state grants to underwrite the endeavor.

Project proponents, not unexpectedly, tout the hoards of dollars skiers would leave in the coffers of local businesses and the additional development the project would spur, while others wonder about adverse environmental impacts associated with the development on the hill and the impact of motels, condos, stores, restaurants, etc. the facility might encourage on the adjacent community. Some have asked what will happen if the project goes belly-up, and we are left with eroding trails, "resort" zoning, etc. The Houghton newspaper, which seems friendly to the project, reported that when a Lac La Belle resident asked if the County had reviewed Crosswinds' feasibility study, the answer was no and that, "If they (Crosswinds) were pursuing it, they must feel the project is feasible." Makes me shudder.

I suppose a ski hill would be nice, although I thought the maxim of Ski Hill 101 was not to build one on a south-facing slope. I do wonder why we state taxpayers should anti-up nearly a million bucks to subsidize a for-profit development company's project, especially one of such dubious feasibility, limited public benefit, and mixed blessing.

County officials, who I expect yearn for the "good old days" when County Boards could cater to such proposals without notice, before or after, now face stormy sessions as they meet in public hearing on March 15th to consider the grant application, and again on March 28th to consider the rezoning. I remember, none too fondly, similar late evening encounters, both as a regional shopping center developer's representative and as a community's city manager (not at the same time or in the same town). The usual cast of highly vocal characters will be present: the protectors of all that's holy (sometime labeled the "last guy in shut the door crowd"), and the better dressed, usually from out of town, proponents, dedicated to rescuing us from our economic and social doldrums. This latter group, and the libertarians who often rally around their banner, are sometimes labeled the "unfettered free enterprise zealots"- or "Greeks bearing gifts". (Some of kinder things said of me when I wore the developer hat.)

There, of course, will be thoughtful people representing all views, presenting reasoned argument and posing challenging questions, but the needed dose of raw edged "democracy" will be supplied by those of greater passion. I have latent sympathies for elected and appointed officials in such situations, but I'll enjoy being able to sit in the rear pew and watch our county guys and gal squirm as they get roasted in the Keweenaw heat.

(906) 289-4536

March 31, 2000.Letter to County Commissioners.

March 31, 2000

Lyle Peterson
Keweenaw County Commissioner
HC-1, Box 9
Mohawk, MI 49950

Dear Commissioner Peterson,

I wrote to you a few weeks ago to tell you of my concern about the use of public funds to pay for sewerage and water systems in the proposed private development of Mt. Bohemia, and to encourage you to utilize the Planned Unit Development procedure in our County’s Zoning Ordinance to review and regulate such large scale, multi-use development proposals.

Both matters are now approaching a vote. I write again to reiterate my concern.

Public Funding.

Neither you nor I, nor any other owner of residential or commercial property in our County, would expect or receive public tax money to install sewerage or water systems to support the development of our property. We would spend $10,000 to $20,000, or more, of our own out-of-pocket money to install these systems. Hundred’s of County property owners have done just that in the last few years. And hundreds more will do so in the next several years.

Why then, are we who pay for own systems, now contemplating seeking public tax money to pay for the installation of a sewerage and water system on the property of a County landowner? Is there some compelling public benefit to be gained, unlike the benefit these other hard working County residents and property owners have and will provide when they develop their business or residential properties?

Certainly each act of property development by a County property owner creates work opportunities for Keweenaw tradesman, and income to the many other of our neighbors who provide goods and services for such activity. County business owners have and will continue to provide on-going work opportunities as they develop and expand their properties. All of these work opportunities made possible without these neighbors seeking or our providing public money to pay for their water or sewerage systems.

It also is readily apparent that these many individual and privately paid for property developments have had, and will continue to have, a positive impact on growth of taxable resources in our County. Taxable values in Keweenaw County rose over 8% in the last year alone, some $4.2 million. Much of this is new construction. And most of the rest valuation increases induced by these private investments. All this without someone asking for or receiving public money to help pay his or her development bills.

The 2000 Census will likely show that these privately paid for property investments are having a dramatic and positive impact on our County population. This is a matter of some import, not only to our local business who sell goods and services to our residents, but as importantly to our County and Township governments who use these population increases to gain a greater share of the revenue sharing programs of state and federal governments.

We all sometimes lose sight of the value and public benefit of these individual property investments. In aggregate, they dwarf the benefits that we sometimes find so tempting in larger scale "corporate" projects.

In short, there is nothing, in my judgement, and I believe the judgement of many of our neighbors, so uniquely beneficial about the property development now seeking your support for public tax money, that should cause you to concur in their request.

We pay for our utilities; they should pay for theirs.


There are many benefits of sensible development in our County. Thanks to the multitude of privately funded development endeavors in our County, we are experiencing good growth in taxable resources, and are witness to increased and beneficial population growth. Our tradesmen are gainfully employed. Tourism, our bread and butter long term economic asset, expands as more and more people seek out the natural splendor, outdoor recreational opportunities, and soul renewing peacefulness of a land that some of us who live here sometimes fail to appreciate - or do so only if we should leave.

The key, of course, is "sensible" development. A carefully constructed daytime ski facility on Mount Bohemia could be a community asset. (Even though I believe it to be of doubtful feasibility – not something I would invest my savings in, nor, I suspect, would you.) The development of additional low impact seasonal or permanent residences in the Lac La Belle and Bete Grise area, could also be a positive thing for everyone.

The development challenges posed by this rugged and mountainous piece of real estate are immense. It’s not a vacant cornfield out on the edge of town. The situation begs for careful, thorough, and especially skillful planning.

The question is will the development of this large and important part of our County be a beneficial use of land we have been entrusted with; something our grandchildren and we can be proud we were associated with. Or will it instead become an ongoing liability to its neighbors and all of us who have a stake in the well being of our County; something that our grandchildren and we will be embarrassed we were associated with.

The answer, I believe, is how skillful and thoughtful the County and the one or several developers of this area are in the management of the development process. Mutual trust and respect, thoughtful flexibility and thoroughness in the preparation and execution of the development plans will be required. Neither the County, nor the developers of the land can do it alone. This is not a situation where the County can or should dictate, nor is it a situation where a landowner/developer can adopt a "it’s my land and money, I’ll do as I please" attitude.

That’s why I was so hopeful that the County and the developer would agree to utilize the Planned Unit Development process that was so wisely incorporated into the County’s Zoning Ordinance a quarter of a century ago. It fosters and enables just the kind of partnership I believe is so necessary and mutually beneficial.

Unlike the requested Resort Service zoning, which attaches to the land forever, permitting through years of property divisions and ownership changes, a likely helter-skelter arrangement of retail, motels and special uses, the alternative Planned Unit Development zoning is attached to an approved development plan. If the proponent faults on his commitments, or simply walks away, the Ordinance empowers the County to rescind the zoning. That’s a big difference. It’s a safety value, protecting us and the Keweenaw from unintended and undesirable development. A difference, I believe, to be of critical importance to our county’s future well being and livability.

When a developer says no to such planning partnership because he can’t or won’t make up-front disclosures and commitments, and publicly frets being able to trust future County elected and appointed officials to carry out up-front commitments made by their predecessors, I, and I suspect many long time County residents and property owners, are offended and begin to wonder what kind of people we are dealing with.

I find it equally offensive to be told by a developer that my participation in the deliberation on this matter at the time when the developer seeks a zoning change approval by my County officials, is too late and disruptive because planning based on an assumed zoning change has been going on for two years. This property has been zoned Conservation District for a long time. Our Zoning Ordinance has for an equally long period included a zoning procedure specifically designed for such large scale, multi-use projects. Given these circumstances, I find it implausible that any responsible and experienced developer would or could proceed with planning without an up-front and out-front decision on what governing rules and procedures would apply.

If this developer now has a scheduling problem, it’s of his making. Let’s not make it our problem, nor let it abort careful and sensible development review.

Rather than challenge the trustworthiness of people we in Keweenaw choose to serve in our public offices, and complain about citizen involvement in the first public proceedings on this matter, this developer should reexamine his own ineptitude and apparent disdain for public officials and normal public review process.

I appreciate the time you have taken to read and consider my views. As I noted in my initial letter, I enjoyed a wonderful career serving in both the public and private sectors. I learned that neither sector is the holder of all wisdom and truths and that our communities and citizens are best served when both operate in an environment of shared trust and thoughtful partnership, neither attempting to take advantage of the other. That can and should be the situation in the County we are each privileged to call home.

Placing the funding of this project on equal footing with that of other private development in our County, and seeking the opportunity for constructive development partnership by utilizing the Planned Unit Development procedures in our Zoning Ordinance, will foster the desirable outcomes we and our neighbors seek.

Thank you,

George Hite
HC-1, Box 265H
Eagle Harbor