Columbia Township has proposed a new ordinance that governs residential outdoor living areas or ROLA.  Why is this relevant to property owners?  This new law, if passed, will significantly change what you can have in your yard now and in the future.

The purpose of this ordinance is to ensure you do not obstruct your neighbor’s right and left views, as well as straight ahead.  It impacts both lakefront and non-lakefront properties, and is specifically targeted at “back yards.”  (To the Township your back yard abuts the lake, and your front yard faces the street).

What could be affected?  Possibilities include decks, fire pits, grills, and retaining walls.  Although the ordinance does not specifically name plantings (trees and bushes), some at the Township believe the ordinance regulates them.  For example, if you plant a 6-foot maple tree, it could grow and obstruct a neighbor’s right or left view from their property.

When adding something to your outdoor living space, expect the following.

  • You will be required to submit a complete topographical drawing of the entire property (includes elevations).  Most people will find they will have to hire an architect or engineer to create the necessary drawings.  It must show that there is nothing blocking the view of a neighbor 18 inches tall in some areas, and 48 inches in other areas (see illustration that accompanies the ordinance).
  • You will be required to buy a permit and be inspected by the Township, both before and after.
  • The cost of hiring an architect or engineer could reach several hundred, possibly thousands of dollars. Additionally, there are the costs of permits.  If the inspector doesn’t pass it, re-dos could add to the the expense.
  • There are no provisions for variances.

As you read the ordinance, you are likely to find the language difficult.  While the intent of this ordinance seems simple, the implications are far reaching. 

Over the last few years, the Columbia Township Planning Commission has met regularly and spent countless hours eliminating outdated ordinances and bringing the remainder into line with state requirements. This rewrite has been forwarded to be voted upon by the Township board. The ROLA is not the product of the Planning Commission, but rather a recent add-on by the Township board. Mike McKay, who is on the Planning Commission, has either built or remodeled over 100 properties at Clark Lake. According to Mike, this new ordinance would create serious problems both for existing properties and for changes you want to make in the future.