Lowell Township Board to have Planning Commission review fill ordinance
by Cindy M. Cranmer
The Lowell Charter Township Board continues to move forward on juggling residents’ concerns with businesses’ needs with the development of a zoning ordinance regulating fill use.
A committee was created in September to address concerns about fill operations and developing an ordinance to govern properties throughout the township when it comes to fill. The fill ordinance related to businesses primarily operating by John Timpson, a long-time area business owner. The fill ordinance covers the entire township though and cannot be written just to address concerns related to operations at the Timpson property.
The committee is compromised of Board or Planning Commission members, Lowell Township residents, and area residents who have professional expertise in excavating. The problem the Township Board had with the original ordinance as it was written is that it would encompass all property orders and not just pertain to a current situation.
The results of the committee’s work was sent to Township Attorney Cliff Bloom and the Township Board spent Monday night reviewing his suggested revisions. After considerable discussion, the Township Board decided to clarify some items with the attorney and have the Planning Commission continue its process.
The committee decided it was a zoning ordinance and now the Planning Commission is working on the matter.
“We’re on the right path and we’re moving forward,” said David Simmonds, Lowell Charter Township Planning Commission Chair. “We want to get this done as expeditiously as possible.”
The attorney submitted revisions to the board late last week including cuts, additions, and revised wording. Trustees spent time reviewing the proposed revisions, questioning what certain things meant, and whether other parts were more restrictive than proposed.
“I don’t think that was our intent,” Trustee Steve VanderZiel said reading one part that he felt was more restrictive. “We need to remember this is for the entire township.”
He will contact Bloom to discuss certain revisions and then a version will be sent to the Planning Commission. The ordinance is looking at classifying exemptions, uses, and guidelines based on property and project size.
Trustees wanted to ensure that residents would not need to come to the board for basic things and be forced to endure extra expenses or public hearings for projects ranging from driveways to plowing dirt around a garage.
The committee’s intent was to allow the Planning Commission to use some discretion when considering a project as well such as the type of property and the areas around the property. “The smaller things we wanted to be able to do case-by-case situation,” he said.
“We wanted latitude for the Planning Commission to move forward or back from the lot line not specific requirements,” VanderZiel said.
Many concerns starting the process in June stemmed from the ongoing use of the Timpson property for their business needs. The fourth-generation owned and operated business offers several services on the property including hauling oversized loads and transporting specialized products, operating a fully operational sand pit, and completing sand and topsoil deliveries.
Nearby residential residents have repeatedly been at Township meetings expressing they do not want to impact businesses or hinder progress, but there has to be something done to balance residential concerns. They stated noise is coming from all parts of the property not just the parts where special use is allowed.
Area residents raised concerns that it was not always a consistent volume, but the banging that was very loud. While special use permits resolve a high percentage of things already, the committee looked at the concerns of both businesses and residents. Additionally, the ordinance needs to do more than cover one property.
The ordinance’s purpose was to try and meet several needs by regulating filling and stockpiling activities. This would lessen impacts to existing drainage patterns and land topography, monitor the amount and type of fill being hauled into the township including preventing hazardous conditions and stopping nuisances from activities, and preventing conflict related to future developments, future underground public utilities, and area residential uses.
Opposition to the current wording of the attempt to resolve issues has been made from those working in excavating and other related businesses, those who use Timpson’s property to dump fill from projects, several area residents, and the Board itself.
Fill operations could happen anywhere in the township now and the controls would be related to other ordinances such as location in wetlands or flood plains.
Greg Forde, committee member and Lowell Township resident, questioned whether the revisions were reasonable in outlining how people may need to go back after a year to meet certain criteria and that would be a huge expense. He questioned whether the wording made it a possibility that things in progress would need to be changed.
“How does anyone know if they are complying or not if we never had an ordinance,” committee member Heidi Olesko said. “If it is done fairly a year should allow for the past”
Olesko felt that a year would be enough time, but others felt that some small projects could be ongoing for considerably longer.
“Cliff was trying to address lawful, nonconforming uses,” said Trustee William Thompson. The intent was to allow for nonconforming uses to be legal for one year and then if it needed expansions to go for a review.
“Is one year reasonable,” Thompson questioned. “Is a 50 percent expansion reasonable?”
Colleen Timpson said to put her business aside and to look at projects that take years of work to get fill dirt. “Please disregard what is going on with us. You don’t do this in a year,” Timpson said.
“Think about beyond us,” Timpson urged. She explained how Lowell Township is full of ravines, valleys, and ditches so getting fill dirt within a year is not necessarily reasonable.
VanderZiel said they are looking at not eliminating things after a year, but that it just needs to be addressed.
Forde said that is where his concern about the extra expense comes in.
VanderZiel said he would get clarification from Bloom, the committee, and take a revised copy to the Planning Commission. “Let them come back with what they think is reasonable,” VanderZiel said.
“Sometimes the bigger guys don’t always consider the impact on the smaller guy,” said Township Resident MaryBeth Reed. “We’re hoping for an element of fairness with this ordinance.”