Leelanau News and Events

Crowds Expected As Talks Continue Over Proposed Leelanau Pines Campground Expansion On Lake Leelanau

By Emily Tyra | Sept. 16, 2022

Planning commissioners in Leelanau’s Centerville Township are bracing for a big crowd at a special meeting next week regarding a proposed Leelanau Pines expansion, with new owners seeking to double its number of campsites and add amenities.

The Centerville Township Hall was bursting at the seams at the public hearing on the topic in late August, which drew nearly 200 from around Lake Leelanau to voice their comments.

Because that gathering was standing room only, Wednesday’s meeting (6:30pm, Sept. 21) will be held in the Performing Arts Center at the Leland Public School. “We had lots of folks requesting a larger venue so everyone who wants to attend can,” says Tim Johnson, Centerville Twp. planning commission chair.

Northgate Resorts purchased the existing Leelanau Pines campground in December 2021 from the Novak family. After operating the campground this summer season, the new owners now wish to modernize and grow the existing facilities located at 6500 E. Leelanau Pines Drive, near Cedar. 

Northgate Leelanau Pines, LLC has retained Fishbeck, Inc. to provide professional services for its campground improvement project.

The request is for a proposed 172 new campsites, for a total of 342 campsites. A proposed 113 future campsites would bring it to a total of 455 campsites down the road. Plans also include renovation of the existing camp office and restrooms, a game room, bathhouse, and laundry facility. Also on the docket: construction of a waterfront pavilion; marina store; boathouse; swimming pools; a splash pad; mini golf; jump pillow; sports court; walking trails; and boardwalks. (Check out the proposed improvements at a glance here.) 

Parent company Northgate Resorts has its home office in Grand Rapids, and operates campgrounds in 16 states. Its owners are familiar with the Leelanau region after years camping here themselves.

Chelsea Bossenbroek, general counsel for Northgate Resorts says, “At Leelanau Pines specifically, we’re looking to improve the park by modernizing it, adding amenities that have proven very popular at our other locations…and adding a variety of ways to camp, so seasonals and short-term guests alike can experience the campground and surrounding area.”

The Leelanau Pines proposal has struck a chord with the community. Johnson says, "It is a very large expansion of the existing operations. What we [the planning commissioners] heard most loudly…is that those in attendance want to preserve the rural character of the Township and in doing so, preserve the environment, especially our water resources — Rice Creek, Lake Leelanau and wetlands,” he says. “They are also concerned about increased traffic, noise, and light pollution.” 

Northgate has significant experience acquiring and making investments at long-established, family-run campgrounds. Bossenbroek shares, “These types of acquisitions make up the vast majority of our campground purchases. Whenever we acquire a family-owned park, we work diligently to build on the legacy that the family created. Selling can be a very tough, emotional decision for families.”

She adds, “Our expertise in campground management and our proven track record of operating best-in-class campgrounds across the U.S. alleviates some of those concerns.”

Johnson says for planning commissioners heading into the special meeting, “Our primary concern is that the proposed expansion complies with the content and intention of the Master Plan as well as any and all Zoning Ordinances that apply. We will also be heavily weighing the public comment we have and continue to receive.”

Regarding Centerville's Master Plan, he adds, “I’ve not personally made a decision on that yet, but clearly it is a major consideration of the planning commission’s determination to ultimately approve or deny the site plan application.

Among those voicing concerns are Nancy Popa, vice president of the Lake Leelanau Lake Association (LLLA), and Brian Price, its lake biologist. They tell the Leelanau Ticker that “The Association will not support the project if there is any threat or degradation to the waters of Lake Leelanau.”

Just two issues they would like the planning commission to consider: increased boat traffic and introduction of invasive species.

“The plan shows the number of campsites increasing 2.5 times, from 170 to 455, making the campgrounds one of the largest in the State of Michigan,” they shared in a joint statement. “Theoretically all of these additional campers could bring boats with them…which greatly increases the risk of introducing — or reintroducing — invasive species into the lake just as we believe we may be gaining an upper hand on the current problem.” 

The LLLA believes that a “Lake Carrying Capacity Study” must be performed to determine effects of the potential addition of so many boats on the lake. The proposed expansion calls for swimming pools, a store, a pavilion and a parking lot on the shoreline, adding a “significant number of impervious surfaces to the site,” says Price, and thus potentially increasing storm runoff into the lake.

He says, “The proposed plan does not address the consequences of increased usage of the existing lagoon on the surface water and ground water,” also noting, “the property includes an endangered forested wetland which is of tremendous importance in the filtration and maintenance of the high-water quality of Lake Leelanau. The proposed addition or trails or any development in the wetlands area should be denied.” 

Some current campers and neighbors are concerned about losing the quiet character of the campground.

Bossenbroek assures, “We will continue to address the public comment at the meetings,” adding, “we have strictly enforced quiet hours at all of our campgrounds.”

She says Northgate Resorts will comply with all permit conditions and regarding “sewer and storm runoff, those items are permitted through EGLE and we will ensure compliance with any and all regulations and permitting requirements.”

Though LLLA reps are concerned about overall increased boat traffic with more campers, Bossenbroek notes “our proposed site plan does not increase docks or boat slips.”

She shares, “one of the main reasons we were attracted to Leelanau Pines is its location on Lake Leelanau as well as its proximity to amazing natural resources and attractions such as Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. We are committed to preserving the natural resources that surround our campgrounds. Our plan specifically includes practical ways that we are looking to help protect natural resources as well, such as a mandatory boat wash and education for campers and guests on the prevention and eradication of invasive species.”

Bossenbroek adds, “We are also members of the Lake Leelanau Lake Association and are promoting the care of Lake Leelanau for everyone’s enjoyment.” 

At Wednesday’s special meeting, planning commissioners will continue their site plan review for Leelanau Pines, with the applicant available to respond to list of questions from the commission and staff to present draft findings of fact. After commissioner deliberations, “if we are ready, we may deny or approve the site plan” says Johnson — with or without conditions.

Photo of Leelanau Pines campground’s waterfront, via its Instagram.

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