As reported earlier on this website, a new Columbia Township zoning ordinance has been in the works for the last two and a half years. As part of the process that turns it into law, the Planning Commission held a public hearing last night (Monday, 2/8/16).

About 30 people attended to address their concerns to planning commission members Roger Gaebe (chairman), Mike McKay, Pam Jarvis, Theresa Mahr, and Hollis Jeffreys.  Also at the commission table was Mark Edelson, of Landplan of Okemos, a consultant hired by the township. Township Supervisor Bob Elrod and Treasurer John Calhoun were also present in the audience.

In his opening remarks, Chairman Gaebe told the audience that the purpose of the meeting was not to answer questions or enter into a debate, but to hear public comments on the December 21, 2015 draft.  According to a township official, state law mandates a public hearing but answering questions is not part of the requirement.

What did those attending have to say to the commission? Here are some of the comments and questions.

John Dale of Clark Lake was the first to speak. He stated that the revisions were not helping the residents, and were going to be an additional burden to small businesses. It was also unfair to hold the meeting in February, when so many of the residents were out of state for the winter. He further asked how this ordinance would be approved and if there would be public vote. The commission did not initially respond, but the consultant, Mark Edelson, with the chair’s approval, clarified the procedure. He said, once the commission was satisfied with the draft, it would be forwarded to the township trustees for their review. They then had 30 days to approve, modify, or reject the draft. If approved, the ordinance would become law.

Susan Richardson of Clark Lake raised the issue of a zoning administrator getting a search warrant to inspect a house or business. Edelson clarified that this only applied if the owner refused entry. This exchange inspired additional follow up questions from Tracy and Kevin Mott of Lake Columbia, among others. Many of those present were concerned with the right to inspect through a search warrant. Edelson responded that the zoning administrator already had this right under the existing ordinance, but that the draft ordinance only clarified the process in obtaining the search warrant. Further, he said that it only applied when there was a need to verify that work done was in accordance with zoning regulations and/or construction codes, and only if the property owner refused to allow entry.

Linda Holmes of Clark Lake referred to a posting she saw on the Nextdoor website that said you would have to obtain a permit to perform maintenance on your property or dwelling.  Both Chairmen Gaebe and Edelson expressed surprise, as they knew of no provision in the existing draft that carried this requirement.

After comments from the audience ended, the planning commission secretary, Theresa Mahr, read from a handful of questions that had been sent in by mail or e-mail. These fell into two categories. The first was a Lake Columbia issue concerning fencing, and specifically fencing associated with parks. The second dealt with the Section 20.18, quoted below. ordinanceIt was suggested in one of the mailed questions that 28 feet was unrealistically low, causing undo hardship, and should be raised to 35 or 40 feet.

Another mailed comment suggested the commission consider the language in Blackman Township’s Zoning Ordinance, Section 4.1.2 on Open Space Districts.

The audience was told that all proceedings of the meeting would be recorded in its minutes and be made available on the Columbia Township website. As of Tuesday noon, they were not yet posted.

Click here to read the latest iteration of the ordinance.