Mr. Tom Rook
Orangeville Township Offices
7350 Lindsey Road
Plainwell, MI 49080
Re: The Spoor Marina
Zoning Change Request
Dear Supervisor Rook:
We are legal counsel for the Gun Lake Protective Association (the “Association”). The Association represents approximately 1,000 families and the majority of property owners around Gun Lake. A significant number of the Association’s members are residents of or property owners within Orangeville Township.
Mr. Lucas Spoor has recently operated what appears to be an unlawful marina (sometimes called “The Landing on Gun Lake”) within Orangeville Township at 11925 Marsh Road (the “Marina Property”). Even though Mr. Spoor created his marina (the “Spoor Marina”) on the Marina Property in 2016 (which included approximately 20 boat slips), he did not obtain a zoning approval from Barry County pursuant to the Barry County Township Zoning Ordinance (the “Zoning Ordinance”). By all indications, the Spoor Marina has been and is in violation of the Zoning Ordinance. Mr. Spoor apparently assumed that his new marina did not require any zoning approvals.
The Marina Property is located within the MU-Mixed Use zoning district pursuant to the Zoning Ordinance. Within that zoning district, marinas are not allowed, either as a permitted use or with special land use approval. However, the MU zoning district as it currently exists does allow a number of uses “as of right,” including, but not limited to, animal grooming facilities, convenience stores, catering establishments, eating and drinking establishments, financial institutions, hotels, motels, professional offices, personal service establishments, theaters and retail businesses. Furthermore, many uses are allowed in the MU zoning district with special land use approval, including bed and breakfast establishments, car washes, drive-thru businesses, gasoline stations, hospitals and open air businesses. Accordingly, the Marina Property can already be used under the current zoning regulations for a variety of different lawful uses.
When Mr. Spoor applied to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (the DEQ”) for the approval of the 20 boat slips in the first phase of his marina in 2016, the DEQ never notified the Association or many of the riparians in the area. Furthermore, the DEQ apparently never checked to see whether or not the new marina would be lawful under the local zoning regulations. In 2017, Mr. Spoor applied to the DEQ to greatly expand his apparently unlawful existing marina from 20 boat slips to 54 bloat slips.
During 2017, the DEQ did a better job of alerting local municipalities and riparian property owners about the Spoor application to dramatically expand the marina. There was massive opposition by area residents, government officials and others to the expanded Spoor Marina. Apart from Mr. Spoor, almost no one else spoke out in favor of the expanded marina. At the last minute (in apparent response to the massive opposition), Mr. Spoor changed his marina request to allow only 17 boat slips in total but in a reconfigured fashion. Presumably, Mr. Spoor is waiting for a future time to reapply for the expanded marina.
In response to complaints by the Association and others to the Barry County Zoning and Planning Department, County Zoning Administrator James McManus began an investigation regarding whether or not the Spoor Marina was a lawful nonconforming use. By all reasonable indications, it is not.
Mr. Spoor now wants to change the rules of the game. He has applied to Barry County to have the Zoning Ordinance formally amended to allow marinas in the MU zoning district (Article 15 of the Zoning Ordinance) with special land use approval. The Association vigorously opposes so amending the Zoning Ordinance to allow the “Spoor Amendment.” Why should someone who has been found to be in apparent violation of a local ordinance be allowed to have that ordinance changed to make the otherwise unlawful use lawful?
The text of the MU zoning district in the Zoning Ordinance (Article 15 of the Zoning Ordinance) should not be changed as requested by Mr. Spoor. That Spoor Amendment is a bad proposal for many reasons, including, but not limited to the following:
- The MU zoning district already allows many uses, both as of right and with special land use approval.
- The Spoor Amendment would simply reward unlawful behavior.
- The proposed amendment would not be reasonable.
- Marina uses would be inconsistent with many of the other uses allowed in the MU zoning district.
- Many other lakefront parcels would be affected.
Some (including Mr. Spoor) will likely argue that even if the Spoor Amendment is adopted, Mr. Spoor would still have to obtain a special land use approval from the Barry County Planning Commission for his marina. However, anyone who is knowledgeable about zoning and planning issues knows that a special land use request is legally difficult to turn down if the standards for that use are met. If the Spoor Amendment is adopted, the Barry County Planning Commission might not have much of a choice but to grant a special land use approval for the Spoor Marina.
Even though Orangeville Township does not have its own local zoning, the Township has every right and authority to make recommendations to Barry County regarding the county zoning regulations. Obviously, the property owners and residents of Orangeville Township will be the most negatively impacted by the Spoor Marina if it is ultimately approved. Therefore, the Association respectfully requests that the Orangeville Township Board make and adopt a formal motion requesting and recommending to the Barry County Planning Commission and the Barry County the Board of Commissioners that the Spoor Amendment be denied.
This is exactly the type of issue that makes people distrustful of government. Many members of the Association wonder how a property developer like Mr. Spoor should be able to prompt a change in the zoning rules simply to accommodate his apparently unlawful marina.
In addition to taking a position on the county text amendment request, the Association also urges Orangeville Township to adopt its own marina licensing ordinance. A copy of a possible ordinance has been attached hereto for your information. This type of ordinance is a police power – non-zoning ordinance which is fully authorized by MCL 41.181 et seq. Ultimately, it would be prudent for all of the townships surrounding Gun Lake to adopt this type of an ordinance. However, at this time, there is some urgency regarding the adoption of such an ordinance by Orangeville Township given the presence of the Spoor Marina.
This type of licensing ordinance can coexist in a perfectly consistent way with the Barry County Zoning Ordinance. Just because Orangeville Township has chosen not to adopt its own zoning regulations does not mean that the Township should abdicate its responsibility to reasonably regulate uses in order to protect Township residents and property owners where appropriate via non-zoning ordinance regulations.
Representatives of the Association will be at your upcoming Township Board meeting on January 2, 2018 to address these issues.
The Association thanks you and the other Township officials for your careful attention to and consideration of these matters.
Clifford H. Bloom
cc (w/encl.): The Gun Lake Protective Association
 Marinas are currently allowed within the RL Recreational Lakes zoning district with special land use approval.