Traverse City News and Events

Major Development Proposed For Crystal River Property

By Beth Milligan | Jan. 3, 2020

A major new development proposed for the Crystal River Corporation property in Glen Arbor – located at the corner of Fisher Road and County Road 675 – drew a packed house to the township’s planning commission meeting Thursday as residents peppered the developer with questions and concerns about the project.

The McCahill family, which owns On The Narrows Marina in Glen Arbor, is seeking to purchase the Crystal River Corporation site (pictured) from owner Don Lewis to expand the family’s business. The eight-acre property, which is currently listed for $4.5 million, has access to both the Crystal River and Fisher Lake and features 45 boat slips in active use. On The Narrows Marina General Manager Conor McCahill presented planning commissioners with conceptual renderings that show plans to construct a new 8,435-square-foot marina building, 26 residential units, and 74 parking spaces on the property.

McCahill said On The Narrows Marina is “maxed out” at its current site on Glen Lake and faces challenges “finding and retaining good employees” due to the seasonality of the business and a lack of affordable housing for staff. Buying the Crystal River Corporation property would provide “an opportunity to solve these problems,” he said, by allowing the company to expand its operations year-round and build workforce housing. Fuel sales and boat rentals would continue at On The Narrows Marina, while seasonal boat slips and boat sales and services would be located at the Crystal River Corporation site. “That gives us the opportunity to expand our marina operation…which will extend our season,” McCahill said.

McCahill, who has a background and degree in real estate development, said the family hoped to dedicate nearly half the units on the property to “moderately priced” housing that could accommodate the marina's workers and those of other local businesses. Of the 26 units proposed for the site, 14 are high-end waterfront homes that would be sold at market rate, while 12 are smaller workforce units set further back on the property. In response to an audience question, McCahill said he did not yet know pricing for either the waterfront homes or the apartments, noting the project was still in the early planning stages. Development of the site – which would also include updating the property’s boat slips – would be phased across “multiple years,” McCahill said.

With the property zoned as a business district, all of the uses proposed for the site are allowed by right under the township’s zoning ordinance, according to Township Zoning Administrator Tim Cypher. The project would still require a thorough site plan review process through the township planning commission, however, including a detailed checklist of conditions that must be met and a public hearing. McCahill said he was coming to the planning commission and community early in the process to get feedback on the concept before finalizing a purchase agreement for the property and submitting an official application. “This is a pretty large project, and I wanted some feedback from stakeholders before continuing to expend resources and time on this,” he said.

Residents in attendance had plenty of feedback to share Thursday, many of whom live near the Crystal River Corporation site and raised concerns about the impact of the project on both the environment and surrounding neighborhood. Andy DuPont, president of the Fisher Lake Association, called the site “a very unique piece of property in a very environmentally sensitive area.” He encouraged McCahill to look elsewhere to construct affordable housing, saying that an expensive waterfront site didn’t make sense for such units, and called for continued transparency about development plans moving forward. The intensive property use proposed “and the impact it would have on the area is what I think has a lot of people concerned here,” DuPont said.

Katherine Rabidoux questioned whether the number of parking spaces planned for the site was sufficient for the expansion plans, saying that On The Narrows Marina frequently experiences parking spillover along surrounding roadways. She worried the same would happen with neighborhood roads near the Crystal River Corporation site, adding that nearby residents would also have to deal with “construction and noise happening all around us for years to come.” Multiple attendees also questioned the involvement in the project of Planning Commission Vice Chair John Peppler, who is acting as the broker for the real estate deal. Peppler stressed that he would recuse himself “from any voting on this project one way or the other.”

Other concerns raised by residents included the level of housing density planned for the property – with some calling on McCahill to reduce the number of units – as well as the potential culling of old trees and the handling of septic and stormwater systems. McCahill said he intended to protect as many of the “majestic” trees on site as possible. Because of a 40-foot required setback from the water, as well as sensitive wetlands on the property, McCahill acknowledged that “the most difficult issue to solve is the septic and well for this property.” He said he was working closely with engineers and architects to design a self-contained on-site sewer system, as well as to install rain gardens and other stormwater control systems.

Related environmental concerns were raised about whether the property might have contaminated soil or bottomlands that would be disturbed during construction. Current property owner Lewis, who was at the meeting, said he's “meticulously made sure that the property has been completely environmentally studied” over the years, including soil testing and remediation and regular water quality monitoring. “I’ve removed everything that’s been put in that ground in the last 100 years,” he said. “The property is as clean, as pure, as environmentally protected as possible.” The site will undergo additional environmental testing as part of the property sale, McCahill said.

McCahill said he would take all of the feedback and suggestions given by community members Thursday to refine site plans before returning for a formal planning commission review, if the project progresses to that point. He declined to comment on the timing of an official application, noting a sale hasn’t been finalized yet and outstanding issues still need to be resolved before moving forward. He told audience members his intent was to pursue a development plan that reflected the “best use for the property.”

“I love the area,” he said. “I want something that fits for everybody – the community, the needs of the business, and the people who'd want to live there.”

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