BY BRIAN McGILLIVARY
TRAVERSE CITY — Some Long Lake residents worry that a proposed sundeck atop a boat storage shed could change the nature of the township's extensive lake shore.
A 17-foot-by-24-foot roof deck sought by Brett and Karen Able would top a storage building — commonly known as a boat house — near the lake. Long Lake Township's zoning ordinance prohibits new structures or the substantial remodel of existing structures within 50 feet of the lakeshore.
But the township originally approved the Ables permit request and rescinded it only after neighbors protested. The Ables subsequently sued the township in 13th Circuit Court.
Neighbors said the deck would violate long-standing rules.
"We were shocked, as were many residents, when we heard that a land-use permit had been issued to not only substantially remodel a boathouse but to also permit expanding the occupiable space vertical on a boathouse," neighbor Rick Kiehle said in a statement to the township board last month. "If we allow people to build ascending stairways to rooftops and create occupiable space that requires safety railings, we will dramatically change the nature and landscape of the lake."
Sara Kopriva, the township's zoning administrator, revoked the permit and issued a stop work order after neighbors complained. By then construction had been under way for over a month.
Kopriva apologized in a letter to the Ables, and said the permit was issued in error because the structure was too high, too close to the neighbor's lot line and too close to the lake.
The Ables appealed to the township zoning board of appeals, which upheld the revocation. They then went to court to overturn the ZBA decision and seek damages.
The couple's attorney, David Rowe, declined to discuss the dispute.
"We are trying to amicably resolve the issues with the township in the best interests of all the parties," Rowe said.
The Ables offered to drop the lawsuit and remove the decking material over the flat roof. In return they proposed the township allow a stairway to the roof and a new roof covering, and install safety railings around the perimeter. They also want to keep the improvements made inside the storage building, which was turned into a living space.
The township board rejected the settlement offer following a closed session last month and turned the lawsuit over to its insurance company.
"There are quite a few of the flat roof type boathouses around the lake and they are all at this point nonconforming and there's a little bit of confusion about what you can use them for," said Karen Rosa, township supervisor.
The lawsuit is scheduled for trial at the end of November.
Kiehle, who declined to discuss the issue, told the township board the proposed settlement would establish precedent along the lakeshore for every person with a shed or boathouse.
"By stretching the intent of the ordinance these same individuals could build landings and 300-square-foot decks year after year until we have no natural waterfront left," he said.