Elmwood Township Wellness Resort Developer To Submit Revised Application Based On Public Feedback
By Craig Manning | May 26, 2023
The Wellevity saga is about to start all over again.
More than five months after the initial public hearing for the Wellevity proposal, which would bring a new wellness-focused resort to the top of the Timberlee property in Elmwood Township, the developer behind the project has decided to go back to the drawing board to revise the plan. That decision, which the Elmwood Township Planning Commission approved at a special meeting held Wednesday evening, essentially sends the project and its Special Use Permit (SUP) application back to square one.
As originally proposed, Wellevity would have brought lodging, a spa and fitness center, a retail market, a restaurant and bar, a “meditation dome,” an event venue, and other features to the Timberlee property. The idea was to create a “full-service wellness resort that will address the core components of health, wellness, and thriving to create an environment of self-care and healing.” Developers planned on offering “all facets of holistic wellness in one place,” including fitness classes, spa services, guided meditation, yoga, wellness retail, and more.
But after a sparsely-attended public hearing in December, the matter of Wellevity’s SUP application drew a crescendo of pushback from nearby homeowners. Perhaps most notably, residents rallied against the developer’s plans to use their private neighborhood roads – namely, Timberwoods Drive and Cottonwoods Drive – as the public access route for the resort. Such an approach, the homeowners said, would drastically affect qualify of life in their neighborhoods by bringing more traffic, reducing road safety, and exacerbating wear and tear of the streets.
Since December, the Wellevity matter has been the subject of numerous crowded Planning Commission meetings, including a reopened public hearing held in March. Planning commissioners convened once again on April 18 to deliberate on whether or not to grant the SUP request, but made no final decision. Instead, the major takeaway from that meeting was a 4-2 vote to allow Lauren Teichner, an environmental attorney who represents a group of roughly 100 nearby homeowners, to submit findings of fact related to the township’s zoning standards. Teichner has argued that the development does not meet zoning requirements and should therefore be denied its SUP request.
Discussion of additional findings of fact was meant to be a core part of the special Planning Commission meeting held Wednesday (May 24) at the Elmwood Township Fire Station. Ultimately, though, the meeting only lasted 22 minutes and ended with planning commissioners voting to postpone further deliberations on the current SUP application.
That decision was in response to a letter submitted to the Planning Commission last week by Marc S. McKellar, a lawyer with the local firm Kuhn Rodgers and the attorney representing Wellevity’s developers. In the letter, McKellar wrote that the applicant “has been listening to the individuals in the surrounding neighborhoods and the commissioners while continuing to strive to be a good neighbor and work in good faith.” In that spirit, McKellar requested that the first agenda item at the May 24th meeting be his client’s “request to postpone a decision on the current application,” as the applicant “wishes to propose a major amendment to the current application.”
“The amended version [of the application] is in part designed to address certain concerns raised by the neighbors,” McKellar’s letter continued. “Essentially, it’s an effort to offer a more palatable proposal in the alternative.”
McKellar was careful to outline in his letter that the applicant does not wish to withdraw the original application completely – at least not yet. Instead, the applicant’s wish is to table the original application and pause any deliberations or decisions on that version of the proposal. This tactic, McKellar noted, “allows the applicant to move forward with the current version [of the application] should the amended version not be approved.” The letter also stipulated that, “Should the amended proposal be approved, the applicant agrees to have the current applications automatically withdrawn.”
Briefing planning commissioners on the request, Bryan Graham – who serves as Elmwood Township’s legal counsel – said that any new version of the Wellevity application “would, in essence, start the entire process over” for the project’s SUP approval.
“There would be a brand-new public hearing on the amended application,” Graham explained. “There would then have to be a new record created on that application, because if there’s going to be significant changes, the public has an opportunity to comment on that amended plan. So, there would be new notices sent out, there would be a new notice in the newspaper; you would basically start the process over for the amended application.”
“If the old plan is brought back to the table, then we proceed exactly where we are now with deliberations,” Graham added.
Planning commissioners ultimately voted unanimously to approve the applicant’s request, which means the original Wellevity application is tabled and another version of that SUP application should be forthcoming. When asked by commissioners to share a timeline estimate for when the new application might be submitted, McKellar said that the developer’s new plans “are going to start going underway basically as soon as this approval was made,” but that there will have to be “some significant engineering to address some of these concerns.”
“It’s a major redesign; these aren’t simple things to make,” McKellar said, adding that he actually urged his client “to just move forward with the application” as originally submitted. “[But] they do want to make some responsive changes [based on feedback]. It’s just going to take some time and energy and effort and resources to make that happen.”
“I would like to say we’d have an application within six months,” McKellar concluded.
Reached by the Leelanau Ticker on Thursday, Teichner expressed optimism, on behalf of her clients, that Wellevity’s choice to pursue an amended application will address the criticisms that have been brought forward in the past five months.
“Our group, the Friends of Timberlee, is hopeful that the developer will take our concerns regarding the proposed resort’s impact on the quality of life of neighboring residents, the private road, and the natural environment into consideration in any future plans,” Teichner wrote in an email. “We will continue to be a strong presence and to voice our concerns – which are so important to the safety and wellbeing of all township residents young and old, and to preserving the township’s invaluable natural resources – in any future proceedings regarding this proposed development.”Comment
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