Traverse City News and Events

East Bay Delays Decision On GO-REC

By Beth Milligan | Sept. 13, 2022

After a marathon five-hour meeting Monday, East Bay Township trustees delayed voting on a proposal from Rotary Camps and Services to open the 500-acre former Camp Greilick property for public recreation, camping, educational classes, and special events. However, trustees appear to only have a few remaining issues to work through – notably related to alcohol and amplified music – before approving the application for the site, now called the Greilick Outdoor Recreation and Education Center (GO-REC). Trustees could take up the proposal again as soon as their next regular meeting in October.

The board discussed a range of issues Monday – including event sizes, parking, outside watercraft, noise, and neighbor impacts – while reviewing Rotary’s GO-REC application for a planned unit development (PUD), or a zoning plan tailored to a specific property. Township planning commissioners voted 6-1 in March to recommend that trustees approve the PUD, which would allow Rotary to offer not only overnight camping – a use already approved for the property – but day uses as well, allowing the public to hike, bike, cross-country ski, snowshoe, kayak, and play disc golf without having to stay overnight. GO-REC staff also plan to offer classes – such as wilderness first aid – and partner with groups like Norte and the Vasa Ski Club for on-site programming. In addition, special events like weddings, conferences, and races would be allowed on the property.

As with the lengthy planning commission review this spring – and a township board public hearing in May – a significant portion of Monday’s discussion focused on special events at the property. Rotary’s application would allow up to 20 large-sized events to be held at GO-REC annually, defined as those with 100-420 guests (that capacity would be limited to 200 at Besser Lodge until the property’s septic system is upgraded). As part of those 20 events, up to 12 weddings could be held between May 1 and October 31. However, planning commissioners added a condition that large-scale events cannot take place on back-to-back weekends, with the goal of providing neighbors with a respite between major events in the summer.

In addition to 20 large-scale events, GO-REC could hold up to 30 mid-sized events annually (30-100 guests) and smaller classes and events (1-30 guests) daily. Any major races or transient events – those exceeding 420 guests – would only be allowed on a case-by-case basis with township permit approval. While professional sound and traffic studies determined that noise and traffic safety should not be issues at the site, neighboring residents questioned the noise study and whether it accurately reflected real-life conditions that could carry amplified music from weddings and other events across bordering lakes – including Rennie, Spider, and Bass – and into residential areas.

Residents also worried about an influx of outside watercraft to the lakes and the possibility such a move could introduce invasive species and crowd the waterways. Local businessman Casey Cowell, pointing to the recent discovery of the invasive didymo in the Boardman River, said it was a “bad time to expand (watercraft) access.” However, Rotary Camps and Services Executive Director Matt McDonough pointed out that GO-REC will only allow nonmotorized watercraft – like canoes and kayaks – and will be the only lakeside site with a required boat washing station. Users can enter the lakes from any other public or private access points without washing their watercraft, he noted, posing a higher risk of invasive spread elsewhere. Outside watercraft will only be allowed to come in with overnight campers and class attendees; GO-REC plans to maintain its own fleet of on-site kayaks and canoes for public day use. Total watercraft on-site at any time will be limited to 60.

Other recommended planning commission conditions stipulate that parking must be contained entirely on-site in the 262 spaces available for events – not spilling over into any nearby roads or driveways – and that Rotary must maintain a state campground license and address potential environmental contamination from an abandoned gun range on the property. Township trustees agreed with those conditions, but struggled with the planning commission’s recommendation to allow large events on the property.

Specifically, several trustees were skeptical that amplified noise – like wedding DJs – wouldn’t impact neighbors and that alcohol service should be allowed. Township Supervisor Beth Friend said that while large events were a historical tradition on the property – which was used by the Boys Scouts and other groups for decades – “certainly alcohol is not.” Trustee Matt Courtade agreed, saying the PUD “would make more sense” without large-scale events. “The plan is too overreaching,” he said.

Trustees appeared to reach a consensus that they could support the PUD if amplified music and alcohol were prohibited on the property. While the board did not address the likelihood that wedding usage will be severely restricted without music or alcohol, trustees agreed it made little sense to differentiate weddings from other events under the new conditions. Accordingly, they expressed support for allowing up to 26 large events of over 100 people year-round – or a maximum of one every other weekend – without differentiating between event types.

Due to the late hour and recommendations from township legal counsel and staff to carefully craft any written changes to the PUD conditions, trustees agreed to table the application Monday and take it up at a future meeting. That will give staff time to update the “findings of fact” report and include revised language to reflect the new conditions sought by trustees. The PUD could be taken up again by township trustees for possible approval at either their October or November meeting.

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