PC puts Biltmore back on the front burner.   Other discussions: The Cobalt survey is resurrected.  Lake district overlay zoning,  Conditional use for Churches in General Commercial (GC) zoned areas.

Four months ago, on October 21, 2015, the Planning Commission (PC) voted to send Biltmore a letter, a formal response to Biltmore's May 2014 request.  The response was to inform Biltmore that they were welcome to do anything conforming to the existing Township Master Plan.

This response was referred to with pride in several subsequent PC meetings and by Dignan himself at the October 21 meeting..

At tonight's meeting, however, Dignan said it had been "clarified" to him that the letter had not closed the issue.  Who was responsible?  Good question.  No one on the PC asked.

How did the PC arrive at this?  It began during Comments from the Commissioners.  Dignan tossed Township Manager Fink a big fat softball.  Please describe the "informal" and "formal" processes which follow requests made of the Planning Commission.   Dignan cited two examples of such requests: Church of the Living Water and Biltmore.  Sally Hodges, McKenna's $130/hour Senior Vice President of Planning, was present and on the clock but wasn't asked for much more than a head nod.  Fink did all the talking.

By the end of his twenty minutes Fink had walked them through repeating the entire process, the one we endured when Carlisle-Wortman's Doug Lewan was our Township Planner.  Iaquinto served up a second softball question, Hadn't the PC already voted to send Biltmore a letter of response to the 2014 request?  Hadn't the issue been closed?  This is where Dignan said it had been "clarified" to him that it had not.  On hearing that Fink jumped in and said Dignan was "absolutely 100% correct."

So again, the Planner will be asked for a report on the Biltmore request, this time at the new&improved rate of $130/hour.  And, said, Fink, we'll need to run it by the Township Engineers.  The discussion was brought to a close by Larry Roman, who said it should be held during a regular meeting, when everyone had had an opportunity to be prepared.

How is it possible that Ken Dignan's October 21st PC letter had so little meaning?

Who "clarified" that the letter meant nothing?  Where's a credible written legal opinion backing that assertion? 

Planner Leah DuMouchel was at the Oct-21st PC meeting.  She did not object when the Dignan letter was proposed, discussed, and acted on.  We've since learned that she took her ethics seriously enough to walk away from the Northfield Township Planning job.    As did Carlisle-Wortman Planner Doug Lewan, just five months before.

Fink himself was in and out of that meeting.  As an expert he should have told the PC that their proposed letter was meaningless.  It's not as if the Township Manager is reticent with his opinions; he jumps into every discussion he can.

Was this nothing but a third rate subterfuge designed to lull residents and sidestep their objections?  Or is it less complicated than that, a symptom of widespread disfunctionality in the Township Boards, everyone in a hurry to get nowhere.

Following the surprising turn of Commissioner Comments, audience member Faith Wheeler asked to comment again.  Using the excuse that since the entire conversation had occured after the final call to the public, Dignan denied her permission to speak.

Commissioner Iaquinto said something puzzling during his final Commissioner's comment.  We don't deal in rumors so you'll have to watch for yourself using the LiveAgenda.


That was the exciting part of the meeting.  Here are the boring parts:

Agenda Item 9A: Lake Overlay Zoning:  Our latest Planner reviewed the work done by our Previous Planner.  It was suggested that Wildwood Lake (née Dead Lake) was different, requiring different options..

Agenda Item 9B: Consider the addition of churches as a conditional use in the General Commercial (GC) District

The Living Water Church was officially on tonight's Agenda.  Both Dignan and Iaquinto recused themselves, saying that they were part of the Church decision making process.   The Church has formally separated from its old parent, St Lukes in Ann Arbor, and is now able to borrow money from the parent synod.  Living Water has apparently signed a purchase agreement for the Lakeside Saddlery, conditional upon the Planning Commission's approval of its conditional use as a Church. 

Sally Hodges, the $130/hour McKenna Planning Vice President, presented her analysis.  It's in the meeting packet.


Neither Dignan nor Iaquinto had recused himself during the April 16, 2014 (Agenda Item 10C) discussions, going forward, that led to the PC voting to permit Churches in the RTM district.   This issue arose because at that time the Living Water Church wanted to buy and convert an unoccupied building in the RTM industrial park.  For whatever reason that deal fell through.  The changed zoning remains.

Nor had Iaquinto recused himself from 7-17-2013, 8-7-2013, 8-21-2013, 9-18-2013, and 10-16-2013 PC discussions of regulating Food Carts.  Food Carts became a pressing issue after a lonely little hotdog cart appeared in downtown summer Whitmore Lake.  It hardly seemed like competition for Dee's, the lakeside ice cream and sandwich stand owned by the Iaquintos.   But Fink obediently championed the cause.  Gotta regulate.  What's ironic is seeing our local libertarians wrap themselves in government protectionism when it serves their self interest.

This discussion ended up in a very strange place.   Thanks to some trenchant questions asked by Larry Roman, every zoning category will eventually be examined for Church-ability.  More on this later.

 The Cobalt Survey was resurrected once again.  The PC asked Fink to have Cobalt at the next PC meeting.  Fink said he'd try but said he'd have to reread their contract to understand their obligations.  Here's a hint, Howard.  Cobalt already told you that they'd budgeted for only one Board or PC meeting.  That meeting happened last year.   [Insert a link to the meeting]

LiveAgenda of the 2-17-2016 Northfield Township Planning Commission Meeting   

Meeting Topics:

    • Lakefront Overlay District
    • Addition of Churches as Conditional Use in General Commercial District
    • Goals and Objectives for 2016