2008-03-27 / News

Clark Township Consider PUD, Granny Flats, Preservation Ordinances

By Amy Polk

Planned unit developments, "granny flats," and open space preservation guidelines are being considered by Clark Township as it updates its zoning ordinance. The township does not have laws governing such land uses, which have emerged in the 30 years since the ordinance was created. The Clark Township Planning Commission started public discussion Tuesday, March 18, at a meeting that lasted 3.5 hours.

Open Space Preservation Act

Michigan's Open Space Preservation Act requires communities with more than 1,800 residents, a zoning ordinance, and undeveloped land to adopt zoning guidelines that allow developers to relax certain development guidelines if they conserve 50% of their land. The conserved land must be set aside as permanent open space. The act was adopted by the state to conserve land for environmental and aesthetic benefits.

The state law was adopted in 2001 and requires communities to amend their ordinances to include the provision. Clark Township met qualifications for the provision and planning commissioners debated the issue through 2003.

Commissioners never amended the ordinance that year, however, since they were waiting for possible changes to the legislation.

Brad Kaye, the township's planning consultant, presented two development scenarios Tuesday night. One, required because the township meets the criteria of the Open Space Preservation Act, allows development of a parcel's full potential on half the parcel if the other half is conserved.

The number of lots varies by zoning district. A person with 40 acres in the agricultural district ,where the minimum size is one acre, could develop 40 home sites on 20 acres, as long as it meets health department septic and well requirements.

Clark Township can also adopt a 30% conservation choice. This allows the full development on 70% of the parcel, conserving the other 30%.

Both guidelines would be optional to developers. Conventional development would still be allowed, and guidelines vary with zoning districts, but some developers may find smaller lot sizes more appealing and cost efficient, Mr. Kaye said. He proposed limiting Open Space Preservation options to 20-acre parcels.

Planned Unit Developments

Planned unit developments, or PUDs, can relax township zoning rules for certain developments that are beneficial to a community. A planning commission may decide, for example, to reduce the setbacks or lot size requirements for a PUD that dedicates a certain percentage of its land to a park, a public easement, or for some other use that may be of public benefit.

A PUD could open opportunities for things like landscaping, trail easements, land for a boardwalk, or public parking, Clark Township Supervisor Linda Hudson said.

Cedarville contractor Mike Mc- Maken thinks allowing PUDs might make real estate in Clark Township more attractive to prospective developers.

Mr. Kaye said a large PUD near Traverse City converted a former 75-acre bison ranch into a shopping center and water park resort. Stipulations for approval included placing 18 acres in a conservation easement held to protect the land from further development.

Ownership of the protected land was transferred to Garfield Township, and the Grand Traverse Regional Conservancy holds the conservation easement. Businesses in the development are paying to restore a creek flowing through the property that was degraded by prior agricultural activity.

PUDs are most often used as a tool to protect the land, Mr. Kaye said, and can also be a tool to clarify uses on a lot where the desired uses were not previously defined. He knows of few communities without PUDs, or at least the provisions to allow them.

"But if the standards are too loose, and it's not administered properly, it could be abused," he said, recommending the planning commission adopt firm standards so people know "you can't just use this to avoid the standards of the zoning ordinance."

"Well, I'm of the opinion that this is a very good thing to have, with the right standards," Commissioner John Grenier said, adding that PUDs could be used in Clark Township to encourage more pedestrian-friendly development.

Commission Chair Jeff Davis agreed that PUDs can be a good thing, but feared they could encourage abuse of the ordinance.

"I think it would open us up for abuse, and for people skirting the ordinance," Commissioner Mike Miller said. "Unless there is a way we can set this up with strict standards and adhere to those."

Cedarville resident Dave Dunning said he does not know any planning commission that could resist the pressures of a developer, and he is concerned commissioners might buckle without stiffer standards.

Bob Dunn of Cedarville agreed with the concerns, but suggested allowing PUDs with strict standards enforced by an ordinance that gives examples, he said, "of a good PUD and a bad PUD."

"It might help to think about the prettiest communities you know of. They probably have PUDs," said Hessel resident Chuck Malcho. "It's the best vehicle you have to move forward with the highest and best use of the property."

Mr. Kaye will work further on the proposed PUD ordinance and bring recommendations back to the planning commission.

"Granny Flats"

The poor economy is one reason accessory dwelling units, known in many places as "granny flats" or in-law apartments, may become increasingly attractive to homeowners caring for aging parents or relatives, or trying to offset mortgage payments.

Accessory dwelling units can be small apartments in basements, above garages, in carriage houses, or in separate cottages. They often have separate utilities, a kitchen, and sometimes a separate entrance. They are encouraged in some communities for affordable housing.

At the March 18 meeting, Mr. Kaye presented a zoning ordinance change that would limit the number of dwellings to one per lot. The proposal prompted several questions from citizens, who were in favor of allowing accessory dwellings under certain guidelines.

Mr. Kaye will bring some options for accessory dwelling unit guidelines to next month's meeting.

In Traverse City, where Mr. Kaye's planning firm, Gourdie Fraser, is based, citizens and planners debated accessory dwelling units for more than a year. The units were previously allowed for approved occupants. Once the occupant vacated the unit, it could no longer be used as a dwelling. Some Traverse City citizens and planners sought to expand the guidelines as an affordable housing option, but the measure was rejected in December 2007 because of public opposition to affordable housing expansion into residential neighborhoods.

Clark Township zoning now allows two-family use in the agriculture, resort, rural residential district, industrial, and light industrial zoning districts. A special land use permit is required for two-family dwellings in the single family and commercial districts.

Second dwellings are allowed over garages or separate from the house if the property owner can demonstrate the lot can support two or more dwellings.

The landowner must also demonstrate that portions of the lot with dwellings can be split into legal sized lots if the dwellings must be eventually sold. Bunkhouses without kitchens are allowed without meeting these requirements.

Clark Township also has several properties with guest cottages that may be non-compliant, but existed prior to zoning.

Non-homestead taxes are paid on guest cottages and cabins, since they are considered separate residences from the main dwelling. Mr. Dunn said allowing guest cottages can add value to a parcel, and he cited an example of a main dwelling on an island that has a guest cottage to accommodate children and their families when they come up for the summer.

Mrs. Hudson said she would like planners to also look into allowing businesses to have rental units above the first floor. Upper level apartments could expand affordable housing options in the township and provide some yeararound income for businesses struggling with the seasonal highs and lows of the tourist-based economy.

Citizens and commissioners questioned limiting dwellings to one per parcel, and said guest cottages, apartments above garages, and separate or adjoining living quarters for family members are among the uses they would like to see in Clark Township.

In today's economy, said Jim Struble of Cedarville, such units are becoming a necessity as Baby Boomers retire to the area and want to bring their aging parents to live with them. Others in the audience mentioned homeowners who house family or friends who cannot afford their own home, yet.

Commissioners debated whether to require enough space between a main dwelling and an accessory dwelling to allow splitting the lot later, if necessary. An accessory dwelling could actually become an economic hardship, Mr. Davis said, forcing the owner to sell the second dwelling when the occupant moves out.

In that scenario, it would be ideal to have standard setbacks in place before the split, so the landowner is not left with a second home that can't be sold because it does not meet zoning regulations.

Zoning and Building Officer Frank Sims suggested two sets of guidelines, one for units adjoining the main house, such as attic or basement apartments.

Another set of guidelines might require separate units to meet setback requirements prior to construction of the accessory dwelling.

Apartments over garages will also be considered in future meetings.

Commissioners at the Tuesday workshop also discussed procedural amendments, including adding a provision for conditional zoning, and new and more detailed land use application requirements.

The public can weigh in on the proposed zoning and land use guidelines at any of the Planning Commission's third Tuesday, monthly workshops. Workshops start at 6 p.m.

Public input meetings especially to collect citizen comments are planned for the spring and summer.

One will be in April, and the date will be announced soon.

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