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Prevo/Schmuckal Mega-Development in Leelanau County on Hold

Elmwood decides to protect farmland

September 1, 1997 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

A plan by two of northwest Michigan's prominent business families to turn a 77-acre Leelanau County cornfield into a new retail and residential complex has generated significant opposition by citizens and the members of the Elmwood Township Planning Commission.

The plan to develop the farm was put before township officials and 100 citizens last August by Prevos, a regional food store chain, and Schmuckal Oil, a developer of mini-marts. The project called for a supermarket, gas station, car wash, mini-mart, and commercial and office buildings on 30 acres of the site. The remaining acreage would host a new 127-unit residential subdivision.

The proposal drew immediate criticism from Planning Commissioner Jim Ganter. Mr. Ganter said that the land is zoned for agricultural purposes, and it was in the township's long-term interest not to change the zoning. His comments met with enthusiastic applause from the audience.

Julia Kobza, another member of the Planning Commission, said new home and business development needs to be based on a village concept, to create communities instead of randomly springing up in outlying farmland.

The property is at the increasingly congested intersection of Bugai Road and M-72. The developers said they viewed their proposal, in part, as a business decision to take advantage of a busy corner.

Even before learning of the Prevos/Schmuckal project, Elmwood had taken action to slow the pace of new construction. In 1997 the township established a moratorium on new development, gaining time to hire a planning staff and to strengthen a zoning ordinance that was written in 1969.

Given the moratorium and the community opposition, Dave Prevo, an executive with Prevo's Family Market said, "We don't know if we'll do anything with the property at this point."

Elmwood Township, 10090 East Lincoln Rd., Traverse City, MI 49684. Tel. 616-946-0921; Jim Schmuckal, Schmuckal Realty, 616-946-5100.

Area Conservancies Help Save Farmland

As farmland in northwest Michigan turns into subdivisions and shopping centers at an ever-quickening rate, the region's two land conservancies are responding with thoughtful programs to help farmers stay in business.

Last June the Leelanau Conservancy launched a new service project, the Leelanau Agricultural Alliance. Its goals are to:

* Assist farmers in planning their business operations.

* Work with local governments to initiate farmland preservation programs.

* Educate citizens about the threat to the county's farm base from "creeping sprawl."

* Produce a Farmland Conservation Tool Kit to help farmers, residents, and local governments evaluate
and implement zoning, state and federal tax provisions, conservation easements, and other public policies
that would help secure the county's agriculture industry.

The conservancy has organized a county-wide coalition with farmers, local government officials, public interest organizations, and businesses to promote the project.

The Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy started the Acme Township Agricultural Preservation and Growth Management Project in 1995 to help strengthen zoning and protect farmland north of fast-growing Traverse City.

While township farmers were not interested in duplicating Peninsula Township's successful "purchase of development rights" farmland preservation program, they were prepared to take steps to improve land use regulations. With the Conservancy's assistance, the township formed an agricultural study group, which conducted research and surveys and found that:

• The most important cause of farmland loss is low crop prices.

• Most residents want to protect farmland in order to safeguard the township's rural character.

The two findings prompted township leaders to work on zoning amendments to encourage the protection of large blocks of farmland, but to do so in a way that offers farmers more flexibility if they want to sell.

Under current zoning, the township allows one house to be built on a minimum of five acres of former farmland. With the help of planner Don Hamilton, the township now is considering zoning that would allow one house on a minimum of 20 acres.

However, seven more houses could be built on that same 20 acres if 70% of the land was set aside for farming, open space, or forest. In other words, as many as eight houses could be built on six of the acres, while the remaining 14 acres would remain open.

Rick Wilson, Leelanau Conservancy, P.O. Box 1007, Leland, MI 49654. Tel. 616-256-9665; Don Hamilton, P.O. Box 238, Cedar, MI 49621. Tel. 616-941-2424.

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