Acme Projects: M-72 Widening, Engle Ridge Farm Development
By Beth Milligan | Feb. 8, 2019
New development continues to bring changes to Acme Township, as a major M-72 widening project is planned to begin as early as next year – accommodating increased traffic in the corridor – and township planning commissioners prepare for a public hearing Monday on a contentious proposal to redevelop Engle Ridge Farm.
Plans to widen M-72 resurfaced this week when developer Dan Kelly asked township officials for a one-year extension on his planned development (PD) zoning plan for his KOTI project off M-72 (pictured). The multi-phase development near Acme Creek calls for the creation of a walkable resort featuring 76 single-family homes, 50 multi-family homes, 45,000 square feet of commercial space, and 20,000 square feet of office space. Under the terms of his PD, Kelly was required to submit final site plans for the project by April 17; his extension request, which was approved, now gives him until April 2020.
Kelly tells The Ticker he still plans to break ground on phase one of the project this summer as originally planned. But work to finalize site plans has been hampered by a traffic study – completed by consultant Progressive AE – that shows the KOTI project will generate enough traffic to require the construction of a new center turn-lane on M-72, among other improvements. Kelly can build the first part of KOTI without the center turn lane, but would be unable to finish the development until M-72 is widened. “I’m not super concerned it’s going to stop our project, but we don’t want to jump into a full-on go without a commitment that the road is going to be built,” he says.
Fortunately for Kelly, plans were already underway to widen M-72 as part of work proposed by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians and the Acme Creek Restoration Project. The highway narrows from five lanes near the US-31/M-72 intersection to three lanes near M-72’s roundabouts because the current Acme Creek culvert “isn’t big enough to support five lanes,” explains Acme Planning & Zoning Administrator Shawn Winter. The GT Band is working to channel grant funding to the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) for a multi-million dollar project that will replace the structure with an open culvert that can support five traffic lanes. The expansion will mean “a nice new open culvert and restoration of the stream,” says Township Supervisor Jay Zollinger.
While township officials hoped the project could start this fall – and told Kelly as much this week – MDOT Traverse City Transportation Service Center Manager Richard Liptak says the earliest the project could realistically begin is 2020. “We’re in the very early stage of putting estimates together for costs to replace the stream structure, as well make the five lanes,” he says. “Working in that area is going to be very sensitive because of the condition of the stream, so it’s going to take a little bit of time to plan it out.”
Kelly says a 2020 timeframe would still allow KOTI to stay on track, since it will take an extended period to build the initial phase before later phases – those requiring the turn lane – break ground. The public will also receive advance notice before the M-72 project begins. Plans call for shutting down part of the highway and shifting traffic to the other side while work is underway, then repeating the process on the other side of the road. When complete, M-72 will have five lanes of traffic running between the US-31 intersection and the roundabouts.
Township officials will further grapple with the potential impacts of development when they hold a public hearing Monday at 7pm at Acme Township Hall on the proposed development of Engle Ridge Farm at 8114 Sayler Road. Owners Ken and Janet Engle are looking to build a condominium development with 10 single-family units – each located on one-acre lots – and a winery on the property. As with Kelly’s project, the Engles are seeking a planned development (PD) for the site, or a zoning plan tailored to a specific property.
As part of the PD approval process, Monday’s hearing will see the couple ask to transfer development rights from a Bates Road parcel they own to the Sayler Road site. The move would transfer rights to build three units on Bates Road over to Sayler Road – where seven units are already allowed – bringing the project total to 10 units. The project then calls for putting a conservation easement on the Bates Road property to protect that site from development, and another conservation easement on 18 acres on the Sayler Road site, protecting wetlands and active apple orchard and vineyard operations on the property.
The project has sparked debate over farmers’ rights to find profitable uses for their property and the community's strong stated desire to preserve farmland. Acme Township previously changed its ordinance to allow for value-added agricultural uses like wineries “as a way of providing flexibility in the way a farmer may derive income from their property and to promote the economic vitality of agricultural operations,” according to a staff planning report. The Engles’ proposal meets that goal with an on-site winery.
But the development would also put new homes in close proximity to active neighboring farm operations and could result in conflicts over spray drift, noise, and other farming activity. Staff also questioned whether farming on the Sayler Road site itself – designed to be protected by the conservation easement – could realistically continue with condos in such close proximity. “Most members of the agricultural community will tell you that agricultural and residential uses do not make appropriate neighbors,” the planning report states. “To that end, would allowing a residential subdivision in a prime agricultural area be consistent with (the) intent and purpose of this district?”
Planning commissioners will hash out those and many other issues at the Monday public hearing, where they will also hear from neighbors and residents about the project. The board could make a decision on the development rights transfer that night, or delay if members feel they need more time or information. Staff cautioned the request was a first for a PD and thus could impact future agricultural development. “Since this is the first application before the planning commission utilizing this land development option, the way it is reviewed will set a precedence for future applications,” the report states.
Pictured: Conceptual drawing of Dan Kelly's KOTI development. Photo credit: Influence Design Forum.