2018-09-06 / Views

Reader's Forum:

Township fails to address pole barn
By Casey Cowell

Several weeks ago your paper ran an article on a large pole building erected in Glen Arbor Township by Vaughn Dietzel. The property next door is owned by my wife, Dana Cowell. Dana initiated two successful challenges of this project in the Leelanau County Circuit Court. Judge Power ruled on both occasions that accessory buildings were not permitted by the township’s zoning ordinance in residential districts.

The township’s response to the Judge’s decisions was to appeal both to the Michigan Court of Appeals and to amend its zoning ordinance to allow accessory buildings, of any size, in residential districts. The amendment was approved by the township in June, which has the effect of rendering Mr. Dietzel’s 4,000 square foot “warehouse” legal.

Assertions have been made concerning this matter which should be corrected:

It has been asserted that the Township had no option but to defend these matters since, if it had not done so, it may have been liable to Mr. Dietzel for damages. Mr. Dietzel was advised, at the very early stages of his construction, that there were serious issues as to whether what he was building was permitted. He was served with a complaint which outlined these concerns. His response was not to delay construction, but rather to press forward. He did so at his own peril. The Judge’s determination that his structure was not permitted was a problem of his own making, not the township’s.

One consequence of the Judge’s decision was that accessory buildings constructed since the ordinance had last permitted them — around 1998 — were unlawful. It has been asserted that the Township’s only option was to amend its ordinance to provide accessory buildings of all sizes and shapes. This is not true. Almost all accessory buildings built in that time period are reasonable in size and appropriate given that they are accessory to a residential use. Dietzel’s building, which is in excess of 4,000 square feet, is not. The township could have easily adopted an amendment allowing buildings which were size appropriate but disallowing the Dietzel structure. It chose not to.

It has been asserted that the township will not revisit this issue and that accessory buildings will be allowed in residential districts without any size restrictions. This position is contrary to the commitment made by the Planning Commission at its May 3 public hearing when the Commission indicated that it intended to revisit this issue.

I hope that Mr. Dietzel is fully appreciative of the gift provided to him by Glen Arbor Township. Not only is he allowed to keep his accessory building which was deemed to be illegal, but the township helped to underwrite his legal challenge to Judge Power’s well-reasoned opinion. That’s a good outcome for Mr. Dietzel, but not for the citizens of Glen Arbor Township.

About the author: Casey Cowell is a philanthropist and investor in the greater Grand Traverse area. He resides in Traverse City. His wife has owned the property next to the large pole barn with her former husband since 1987.

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