Leelanau News and Events

Leland Township Planning Commission To Decide Fate Of Proposed Mixed-Use Development

By Craig Manning | Dec. 6, 2023

The Leland Township Planning Commission could finally vote this week to approve or deny a controversial mixed-use development proposed for downtown Leland. The development in question has been in discussion since summer, with critics arguing that the building’s design runs afoul of Leland’s quaint small-town character. The final vote on the matter is set to take place at a meeting scheduled for tonight (Wednesday, December 6), with the proceedings beginning at 7pm in the Leland Township Library’s Munnecke Room.

The Leelanau Ticker first reported on the project – called “William and Main” and proposed by developer J. Peterson Homes – back in August. As proposed, the development would bring an 11,590-square-foot mixed-use building to a series of lots on N. Main Street in downtown Leland. If built, the three-story, 33-foot structure would become Leland’s tallest building, housing four commercial/retail units on the ground floor and four condominiums on the upper two floors. The presence of condos as part of the project triggers the requirement in Leland’s zoning ordinance for the developers to seek the approval of a planned-unit development (PUD) from the planning commission.

Keith Ashley, a former Leland Township Planning Commission chairperson, has been the loudest voice opposing the William and Main project, but not the only one. In a September post in the Overheard in Leelanau County Facebook group, Ashley claimed that 160 Leland residents had written letters to the planning commission opposing William and Main. Ashley and others say the development and its “very modern” design don’t mesh with Leland’s small-town character or its master plan.

“It’s a big building, and it’s right out at the sidewalk, and it’s the first building you’re going to see when you come into Leland from the north,” Ashley told the Leelanau Ticker of William and Main back in August. “Mentally, it makes you say, ‘Oh, Leland is a modern town.’ And then you go another block and you say, ‘Oh, Leland is actually a quaint old village.’ We’d like this building to represent that appearance. If they redid the façade of this building to make it look like the rest of the stuff that’s in Leland, I wouldn't have any opposition to it.”

While the Leland Township Planning Commission has yet to hold an official vote on whether to approve or deny the William and Main proposal, they have thus far seemed to side with the opposition. In a 26-page draft findings-of-fact document included in tonight’s meeting packet, the planning commission outlines several zoning standards that the William and Main proposal does not meet. Most of those issues relate back to the question of small-town character.

“The Planning Commission found that the proposed development violates the objectives, intent and purposes of the Zoning Ordinance through its mass and character, and lack of adaptability and suitability for the area in which it is proposed,” reads one comment on the document. The planning commission last reviewed the William and Main proposal – and highlighted these perceived zoning ordinance violations – at a meeting held on October 4. The findings-of-fact document included in tonight’s meeting packet summarizes those discussions and takeaways.

The saga could reach its conclusion tonight: The meeting agenda includes three items regarding the William and Main PUD request: “completion of findings of fact/conditions,” “further discussions with staff or applicant,” and “consideration of motion by PC” to approve or deny the proposal.

Joel Peterson, owner of J. Peterson Homes, suggests there’s precedent in Leland for a building with a similar design to William and Main. In 1905, he says, a “three-story, 35-foot-tall flat roof building” was built in the spot now occupied by the Picnic Leland store. The structure burned down “around 1919,” but Peterson argues the precedent still stands for taller buildings in downtown Leland.

“In our opinion, this building makes moot the opposition’s point regarding our building not meeting historical standards in Leland,” Peterson says.

UPDATE: The Leland Township Planning Commission has voted 5-0 to deny the PUD request for the William and Main project. Joel Peterson now has 21 days, beginning January 3, to file an appeal with the township's Zoning Board of Appeals. Peterson has indicated his intent to proceed with the appeal process.

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