Mapping the future: Peninsula Township lays groundwork for coming decades of growth, development

PENINSULA TOWNSHIP – As townships go, Peninsula Township is pretty unique. Its land juts some 18 miles into Grand Traverse Bay and its widest points measure just three miles. It boasts nearly 54 miles of shoreline, rolling hills and valleys that create an ideal climate for growing fruit. It has approximately 6,000 year-round residents, and 7,200 in the summer.

Planning for land use in Peninsula Township is inextricably linked to the long-term vitality of its agricultural industry-a fine balance of providing for future residential and commercial development while preserving the land's agricultural uses. That's the challenge currently before the township as it works to update its master plan and look 20 years down the road.

Township Planner Gordon Hayward described the planning approach as two-fold: a "bottoms up" citizen-led process focused on what residents want for the township in the coming decades along with a "top down" effort led by the planning commission addressing the infrastructure to support future growth.

Traverse City-based R. Clark Associates, a planning and landscape architecture consulting firm, was selected by the township last fall to guide the master plan project. Known for its progressive, environmentally-based planning and design, the firm's owner Russ Clark said their approach is "understanding the dynamic of its natural features and facilitating the objectives for the land."

Hayward described the current master plan as a "compilation of amendments that had taken place since 1983 and was not intended to look into the future."

A survey of residents and property owners in 2006 indicated the current plan is "substantially still valid," Hayward said, but identified key areas to be addressed, including trail development, shoreline redevelopment, agricultural properties and preservation, and planning visions for Bowers Harbor, Old Mission and the southern end of the township.

One of the issues surrounding agriculture is how to protect it from conflicting uses on adjacent property, specifically with regard to residential developments. Farming creates dust, noise and spray-all things that can present potential conflicts with residential neighbors.

"One of our jobs is the integration of residential development within agriculture," explained Ken Ockert, landscape architect and land planner at R. Clark, most likely leading to more flexibility with housing density.

Committee groups appointed by the township are currently addressing these areas and representatives from R. Clark are working with them to help guide key concepts that will be presented later this spring at a township-wide meeting to gauge consensus.

Rebecca Houghtaling, a planner for R. Clark, said the public part of this process is critical.

"It's so important to get people involved and thinking into the future," she said. "It's not an easy thing to do."

Hayward said the last big idea to come from a community-based planning process was the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program in the early '90s, paving the way for agricultural preservation areas and conservation easements. It was an idea unique to the Midwest at the time.

"Will there be anything that dramatic this time?" asked Hayward. "Maybe, maybe not." But this current planning process will determine whether the township will continue along its current path or move in a new direction, he said.

The plan will be based on a concept of "complete buildout" within the next 30 to 40 years and an ultimate population of between 14,000-15,000 people, Hayward said. The "complete buildout" concept is possible because of the permanancy of the agricultural preserve program and the fact that the township is a peninsula and has minimum impact from adjacent units of government, Hayward explained.

"The overall concept of development density and location is based on the carrying capacity of the roads, maintaining the character of the township and preserving farmland and open space," said Hayward.

Future commercial?

From a commercial standpoint, the township will likely be addressing two major issues, Hayward said. First, it will consider how to make its commercial center, currently Mapleton, an economically viable commercial area. Because there is no "thru traffic" on the peninsula, much of that commercial activity should be destination-oriented. As such, some current restrictions might change, Hayward said. That could mean a hotel with conference space, but at a scale that fits the character of the township. "Probably not 500 rooms, but maybe 50," said Hayward.

Marty Lagina and Craig Tester are long-time Peninsula Township residents and own 11 acres of commercially-zoned property that comprises Mapleton. Lagina stressed their dedication to the area and their efforts to continually upgrade services, and hope any changes to the zoning in that area center on more allowable uses and more latitude in building restrictions.

"We're proud of what we've done there," said Lagina. "It's a nice little commercial center," that includes Bad Dog Deli, Peninsula Grill and the Peninsula Market, which offers the only gas pump on the peninsula.

"It would be really nice if the new (master plan) allowed more commercial uses," he said, adding that they are also looking for more flexibility in order to create structures that fit the character of the township. "We'd like to be given the right to have more options under the [zoning] code."

Neither Lagina or Tester have gotten involved in the master plan update work.

The township may also explore "neighborhood service commercial," development in Old Mission and Bowers Harbor, such as coffee shops and sandwich spots, Hayward said.

The township does allow and encourage home-based businesses and Hayward said the '06 community survey revealed 20 percent of respondents had a home-based profession. Hayward said township officials expect that to continue to grow and view it as a vital component of the township's economic future. There is even talk of those business owners forming a business group, similar to a chamber.

According to the project timeline, a proposed new master plan is slated to be ready for the public review process in late May. BN