Leelanau News and Events

Over-Capacity Meeting Turnout Prompts Elmwood Township Planning Commission To Postpone Wellevity Hearing

By Craig Manning | March 1, 2023

A whole lot of local residents are interested to see what happens next with the proposed Wellevity development in Elmwood Township: That’s what Elmwood’s planning commissioners learned on Tuesday evening, when plans for a public hearing around the wellness resort collapsed because attendance at the meeting exceeded the capacity of the Elmwood Township Hall. The public hearing has now been rescheduled for March 22 at a larger venue, dragging out the debate for the controversial project another three weeks even as certain key issues around the matter seem to have been settled.

Wellevity is a proposed wellness resort development that would bring a hotel, cabins, spa services, a restaurant and bar, and other amenities to 100 vacant acres of land at the top of the Timberlee property. Developers have described the project as “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.” If approved by the Elmwood Township Planning Commission for a special use permit (SUP), the project will ultimately encompass 58 guest rooms, as well as event space for weddings, conferences, and family reunions; open-to-the-public trails; and more.

Since it was proposed, the project has sparked controversy among nearby residents for a variety of reasons. Most notably, there has been pushback due to the fact that Wellevity guests would have to enter the property by traversing a pair of private neighborhood roads: Cottonwood Drive and Timberwoods Drive.

The Elmwood Township Planning Commission held an initial public hearing for Wellevity in December, and while that meeting saw some dissent against the project from a small handful of neighbors, it was not a particularly lively event. But when the Leelanau Ticker published the first major coverage of the project in January, local awareness around Wellevity exploded, prompting residents of several affected neighborhoods to join together, hire legal counsel, and initiate more formal challenges against the SUP proposal.

One of those challenges – a January 18 letter from attorney John Lynch on behalf of the East Timberwoods Drive Association – suggested that the four parcels Wellevity is planning to develop are subject to a deed restriction that limits “the use of the property for residential purposes only.” Lynch also alleged that the project would breach Elmwood Township zoning rules, which state that any SUP must not “adversely impact existing or future neighboring uses.” Because Wellevity would lead to an “increase in non-residential traffic” on Timberwoods Drive, Lynch argues the project would have numerous adverse impacts on his clients – specifically relating to “vehicular and pedestrian safety” and wear and tear of the association-maintained roadway.

Lynch’s letter, combined with public backlash and some outstanding issues with the fire department, ultimately prompted Elmwood Township planning commissioners to reopen the public hearing for Wellevity “for the limited purpose” of addressing two key matters: 1) “Whether the private roads leading to the proposed special land use will be adequate to safely accommodate the traffic that will be generated by the proposed special land use”; and 2) “Whether the roadways within the proposed special land use will comply with all applicable road slope requirements.”

In the wake of the January 18 meeting where commissioners made that decision, members of the public and Wellevity have both had opportunities to compile and submit information speaking to these two items. The plan was for planning commissioners to discuss all additional information at Tuesday’s 7pm meeting, as well as hear further public comment and consider supplementary exhibits from the SUP applicant. But robust local interest in the project quickly caused attendance at the meeting to swell beyond Elmwood Township Hall’s modest 70-person capacity, and planning commissioners were forced to adjourn the meeting and reschedule the proceedings to be held at a larger venue at a later date.

The new meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 22 at the Elmwood Township Fire Department building, which is right next door to the township hall, at 10086 E Lincoln Road. That space has a capacity of 180 people.

Marc S. McKellar, the attorney representing Wellevity and its developers, told the Leelanau Ticker that his team had flown in consultants and experts from out of town for the public hearing, and that he was surprised at the turn the meeting took. “We thought we’d be here until 11pm,” he laughed. Still, McKellar said a postponement was a better outcome than a scenario where someone felt they didn’t have an opportunity to have their voice heard.

The delay means that developers and local residents alike will be left hanging a little bit longer as they wait to find out what the next steps for the Wellevity development might be. Ahead of the meeting, though, Wellevity seemed to have a leg up in the proceedings – at least based upon the documents included in this week's meeting packet on the Elmwood Township website.

For instance, in a January 26 memo addressed to the planning commission, Township Attorney Bryan Graham wrote that private deed restrictions – including the one that allegedly exists on the parcels Wellevity is planning to develop – are not enforceable by state law and are not part of the standards contained in the Elmwood Township zoning ordinance that commissioners must consider when granting SUP approvals. In fact, Graham wrote, planning commissioners are legally obligated to approve SUP requests for any proposals “in compliance with the standards stated in the zoning ordinance,” which would actually preclude any consideration of a deed restriction.

“Therefore, if the planning commission finds that all of the standards contained within [the zoning ordinance] (which does not require compliance with private deed restriction) have been met, then the planning commission is required by law to approve the special use permit,” Graham concluded.

Also new since the last meeting is a supplemental fire department site plan review, which was submitted to planning commissioners on January 27 by Fire Chief Keith Tampa. On January 10, McKellar submitted a request to the fire department asking that the slope of the access drive to the Wellevity be allowed to exceed Tampa’s original recommendation of 11 percent grade; McKellar asked for an allowance of 11.3 percent. In his supplemental review, Tampa concluded that, based on doing a “trial run” of the property with emergency vehicles, “the minimal increase of 0.3 percent should not have a noticeable effect on fire department access and still does not exceed the slope of Timberwoods Drive.”

Both of these memos – plus a range of other documents and records related to the Wellevity deliberation – can be found on the Elmwood Township website. Further details about the postponed meeting should be available on the site shortly.


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