Traverse City News and Events

Townships Use Moratoriums To Address Hot-Button Issues

By Beth Milligan | Nov. 29, 2022

Recreational marijuana dispensaries. Short-term rentals. Lake dredging. Each of these issues can be controversial within communities and require careful consideration to address in zoning – one reason local townships from Green Lake to East Bay to Long Lake are using moratoriums as a way to “press pause” while evaluating hotly debated rules.

In Green Lake Township, trustees approved a moratorium on November 21 on recreational marijuana businesses through the end of January. The move initially caused public confusion – and backlash – since voters approved a ballot proposal allowing recreational marijuana businesses in the township earlier this month by a nearly 56-44 percent margin. But Township Supervisor Marv Radtke says the township isn’t trying to subvert the will of voters. Rather, the short-term moratorium is to buy the township enough time to get its zoning and police power ordinances updated before beginning to accept applications, he says.

“We had that meeting to try and work through the legal aspects with the township attorney and the attorney who helped draft the ballot language,” says Radtke. “It was agreed upon at that meeting to move along as fast as possible. The moratorium is just so we don’t get applications until everything is in place and lawful. We want to make sure we’re on solid ground.”

Township planning commissioners will meet on December 7 to discuss the language for updating Green Lake’s zoning ordinance, making a recommendation that will then be taken up by township trustees on December 12. In Michigan, when communities start allowing recreational marijuana businesses – either because they voluntarily opt in or a ballot referendum forces their hand – they typically determine the rules and regulations for how those businesses can operate before issuing licenses. That includes, for instance, where recreational marijuana businesses can operate and how many of each type will be allowed (types include retail stores along with growing, processing, transportation, and safety compliance facilities).

Radtke says Green Lake Township will likely allow retail stores to operate in its commercial districts, and will consider warehousing and industrial areas for other uses. The ballot language requires the township to allow a minimum of two recreational stores, three growers, three processors, three secure transporters, and three safety compliance businesses to operate. However, Radtke says trustees have discussed eliminating the limit altogether – at least for retail stores – and opening it to any eligible applicants who seek licenses.

“Why just limit it to two?” he says. “That creates a whole other quagmire of legal issues. We don’t want to have this further delayed, and the simplest way to avoid that is to have it be unlimited. If you can find a spot, let the market dictate who stays in business.” In the City of Traverse City – where commissioners also enacted a temporary ban on recreational marijuana businesses until rules could be established – the city recently followed a similar line of thinking in allowing a robust 24 retail store permits. The city received just 17 applications when it began accepting them in August, eliminating the need to go through a competitive scoring process to choose who received licenses or not. Competitive scoring could’ve added months on to the licensing process, according to the city clerk.

Unlike in Traverse City, Green Lake Township is on a tight timeline to enact its new rules due to the voter-approved ballot proposal and intends to move ahead quickly, Radtke says. “Even though (the moratorium) is through the end of January, it was well-discussed and clear that we’re not going to wait until the end of January,” he says. “We’re going to do it as soon as possible.”

East Bay Township officials similarly expressed their intention to address new zoning rules sooner rather than later when approving a six-month moratorium extension this month on new short-term rentals. The moratorium was set to expire December 22, but will now remain in effect through June. The township currently has 169 active short-term rentals – which are unaffected by the moratorium – and is trying to avoid being inundated with more applications while it gets a handle on new regulations.

At the same meeting trustees approved extending the moratorium this month, they also looked at a draft of the new ordinance. It proposes to cap short-term rentals at 145 total – a figure that represents 2.5 percent of the total housing stock – and enact a 1,000-foot distance between new short-term rentals. It would also require vacation rental owners to prove that their septic systems meet the minimum county requirements, and stipulates that rentals can only be turned over a maximum of once every seven days.

With 169 active licenses already in place in East Bay, a cap would essentially mean no new short-term rental licenses could be issued. Township Director of Planning and Zoning Claire Karner previously told The Ticker that “the way that new short-term rentals would be licensed is through attrition, if people chose not to renew.” That could set up high demand for new licenses when they become available, similar to the competition some communities see for recreational marijuana permits. Township staff said they were hopeful the new ordinance can be adopted before June – possibly in the next few months – but that a moratorium extension ensures the township is covered in the meantime.

Finally, in Long Lake Township, officials are preparing to move ahead on possible ordinance changes after a nearly year-long moratorium on lake dredging. Trustees approved the moratorium last year after the state denied a request from a Long Lake property owner to dredge part of the lake and create a channel and basin for a boathouse with room for multiple watercraft. The plans also called for the removal of an old steel seawall. Township Supervisor Ron Lemcool said the dredging request was the first of its kind he’s encountered and that it generated concerns from other property owners about environmental impacts and setting a precedent for more dredging projects. With the property owner appealing the state’s decision, the township decided to examine and possibly tight up its own ordinance, Lemcool said.

After months of committee meetings and public discussion and review, Long Lake Township planning commissioners will hold a public hearing tonight (Tuesday) at 6pm at the township hall on proposed changes to the ordinance. The new rules would ban any dredging above the ordinary high water mark on “any significant body of water within Long Lake Township,” with language included stating that upland dredging can introduce contaminants, impact wildlife habitat, and “have the possibility of impacting adjacent shoreline resources and properties.” The prohibition on dredging, excavations, and channeling would not apply to public agencies improving or expanding boat launches and marinas. The draft language also acknowledges that the ban is “not intended to apply to the jurisdictional authority” of the state to “regulate and permit the dredging of the bottomlands of inland lakes within Long Lake Township.”

If planning commissioners support the zoning changes, they would next go to township trustees for final approval.

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