Leelanau News and Events

Zoning Of Glen Arbor’s Historic Mill And Neighboring Property Unleashes Tensions Within The Village -- And Across Social Media

By Craig Manning | March 22, 2021

What started as a project to restore and revitalize a historic Leelanau County structure has escalated into a contentious community debate about zoning, development, and small-town character – with social media playing an important role in both sides of the conversation.

Such is the recent story of Glen Arbor’s historic grist mill. In October, the Leelanau Ticker reported  that Turner Booth, who owns and acts as steward for the mill property, had big plans for the local landmark. Booth had spent roughly two years rehabilitating the mill – which dates back to 1897 – in hopes of opening the historic building as a museum and community gathering space.

At the time, Booth also told the Leelanau Ticker about his hopes to restore the parcel to the south of the mill property – known as “the Brammer property” – which is currently owned by his brother and sister-in-law. Those plans included amending the zoning on the parcel from residential to recreational, which Booth said would bring the Brammer property’s zoning in line with the zoning on the mill property. Recreational zoning would also allow for more flexible use of the Brammer property, including provisioning for parking and use of existing structures for employee housing, rental cottages, a restaurant, and more.

Concerned about several facets of Booth’s plan, some neighbors who live near the mill property have organized as a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization called Love Old Glen Arbor (LOGA). Members of the group have commented at recent township and county meetings, arguing that changes at the mill property – including parking, restaurant operations, short-term rentals, and a potential easement for a new route of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail – could risk creating a commercialized atmosphere in an area that is heavily residential.

A key sticking point in the debate involves zoning. Members of the LOGA group argue that the old mill property is actually zoned residential and suggest that there are therefore no grounds for the Brammer property to be rezoned recreational. Township and county zoning maps offer conflicting views on the matter, as well as evidence that the zoning on the property has changed at least once – and perhaps more than once – since the 1980s.

Booth has suggested that rezoning of the Brammer property is crucial for preservation of the old mill itself. Minutes from a Leelanau County Planning Commission meeting held on November 24 summarize Booth’s rezoning proposal thusly:

“The rezoning application is about preservation and access. Historically these two properties were operated together. [The Brammer property] parcel includes a stable, farmhouse, and icehouse which stored ice cut from Glen Lake and Fisher Lake. [Booth] would like to operate [the two properties] as a combined unit once again, and this is the reason he would like to reintroduce them under the same zoning. Currently the icehouse is a glorified storage shed and he would like to invest some money and bring it back to life, making it a part of the history of the area once again. Booth said it would be hard to invest the money if the icehouse would just be a storage shed for property zoned Residential 2. Under Recreational Zoning, it could be reopened to the public the same way the mill was and the history could be on display.”

At a Glen Arbor Township Planning Commission meeting held February 4,  Zoning Administrator Tim Cypher reviewed a timeline of the zoning. Though historically a residential parcel, the land was rezoned to recreational in 1987 as part of a failed golf course development project. Cypher said there had been multiple attempts in the 2000s to rezone the property back to residential, including in 2006-2007 as part of similar zoning shifts for a pair of nearby condominium developments. Some maps show this zoning shift as having taken place, but Cypher said in February that proper procedure was not followed and that lingering confusion about the property’s zoning was the result of a “scrivener’s error.”

Cypher asserted, ultimately, that the mill’s current zoning classification was indeed recreational, not residential.

LOGA claims Cypher failed to provide sufficient evidence to substantiate the timeline he presented at the February 4 meeting. The group sought that information last month by way of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, which had not yet been fulfilled when the Glen Arbor Township Board of Commissioners convened on February 16 and voted to approve Booth’s rezoning request. (Cypher did not return a request for comment on this story.)

Now, following receipt of the FOIA documents on February 25 – which one member of LOGA calls “a garbled mess” with no clear proof of Cypher’s zoning assertions – the group is petitioning to have the zoning decision reversed and put to a public vote in Glen Arbor Township. LOGA has until this Saturday to submit the petition to the township clerk’s office with at least 100 signatures from local residents.

In the meantime, the debate over the mill and the adjacent Brammer property has moved from government meetings to social media. LOGA, which started as an informal cadre of neighbors and concerned citizens, officially formed as a 501(c)(4) organization and launched a private Facebook group at the beginning of March. Conversations about the mill and the Brammer property have been active in that group, as well as in the Overheard in Leelanau County Facebook group and on The Mill Glen Arbor, a Facebook page created around the same time that supports Booth’s restoration and rezoning efforts.

LOGA members tell the Leelanau Ticker that they took to social media because they didn’t feel they were being heard by local officials – either through meetings or letter-writing campaigns. Taking the matter to Facebook has opened up the debate – with fierce support on both sides of the issue – and built awareness for the petition, which members say is not about the mill but about the township’s alleged overstep in rezoning the Brammer property.

“Our group is not against the restoration of the mill,” wrote Paul Holtrop, a Glen Arbor resident and LOGA member, on the Overheard in Leelanau County Facebook page. “We do want fair zoning, though. However, if the price of restoration of the mill is an extensive commercial development – including a 46-seat restaurant, large parking lot, cafe, and other amenities – on the northeast end of Glen Arbor, then we must ask ourselves if that price is too high.”

One of the most notable supporters for the mill project on social media? Kim Kelderhouse, executive director of the Leelanau Historical Society and a descendant of the early mill owners. Kelderhouse penned a detailed response to Holtrop’s Overheard in Leelanau County post, praising Booth for returning the mill to its former glory.

“I understand some community members’ concerns about the commercialization of Glen Arbor, but this project is the farthest thing from a greedy development,” Kelderhouse wrote. “Turner has created a sustainable business plan that will bring the past forward in a way that preserves the historic character and provides access for all to enjoy this unique piece of Glen Arbor history.”

For his part, Booth is surprised at how much controversy the mill project has incited. He says there seems to be “quite a bit of misinformation swirling about what’s proposed at the mill and how those plans may impact the township.” He recently launched an FAQ section on the Mill Glen Arbor website and is urging community members to contribute questions. “All reasonable questions will receive an honest response via email and those responses will be shared on our FAQs page,” Booth adds.

When asked to comment on LOGA’s concerns that the mill property could become “too commercial” in the future, Booth assures that the property will be “elegant and modest” and will “blend right in.” He also says he’s in the process of “incorporating feedback from various authorities and refining plans” for the mill – and that he’d welcome involving members of LOGA in that process, and to “incorporate any ideas that we agree are in the best interests of Glen Arbor. I’ve made multiple attempts to sit down with the petitioners and work through any concerns they have.” 

And Booth might now have reason to believe collaborating is possible. In an update shared with the Leelanau Ticker late Sunday afternoon, Booth says, “I spoke with representatives with LOGA multiple times this weekend and I am looking forward to continuing to work with them to resolve any concerns or misunderstandings about the scope of the mill project.”

Pictured: The historic Glen Arbor grist mill, courtesy Turner Booth.

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