NORTHPORT — Timber Shores in Leelanau Township is a saga of dashed development dreams, unpaid taxes and foreclosures, but a new ending may be in store for the property that boasts 1,600 feet of Grand Traverse Bay frontage.
Plans for the proposed Timber Shores RV Resort were presented to the Leelanau Township Planning Commission that include 335 camping sites and an inflatable floating water park.
The property once was home to a campground and RV park that was a popular destination for vacationers. It included 450 acres on both sides of M-22 in Leelanau Township south of Northport.
Several parcels have been sold off and the property now has about 211 acres, according to Walter G. Johnson of Vogel Advisors, who spoke at the meeting. Johnson represents Fred Gordon and his companies — RVTS Aquisitions and NM Investments — which own the property.
Comments and questions were taken from the public, though planners stressed it was not a public hearing. If the company submits a permit application a formal public hearing will be scheduled.
The proposed family-oriented resort, designed by CRS Design of Wisconsin, will also have mini cabins, a putt-putt golf course, a pond, recreation area and staff housing.
“Timber Shores operated for many years and provided economic benefits to Northport and Leelanau Township,” Johnson said. “The new Timber Shores will do the same.”
About 40 people crowded into the township hall Thursday — many of them hopeful but skeptical, as through the years they’ve seen plenty of plans and no action on the property.
“We’ve been listening for 25 years and we hope there’s a new plan that will work,” said Tom Oehmke, whose home is adjacent to the property.
Some had concerns about wetlands on the property and how the resort would impact the environment.
“This particular plan has a lot of environmental concerns for our organization,” said Heather Smith, baykeeper at the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay. “We’re not anti-development. We just want to see it done in a way that protects the environment.”
Some worry about the traffic it will create.
“We love all this business, we like our restaurants full ... but we don’t want a lot of cars and we don’t have a lot of parking,” said Anne Harper.
Harper wondered if there would be bike or walking paths to connect the resort to the village, which is about 2 miles up the road.
“I have a big concern about traffic, especially with big RVs going up and down the road,” Tom DeVault said.
The jobs being touted for the resort will be seasonal and low-paying, DeVault said. That will put more pressure on a community that already can’t get enough summer help because of a lack of affordable housing, many said.
Resort plans include workforce housing, but some wondered if it would be enough.
Bill Collins, who built the Northport Creek Golf Course and the Northport Arts Association, said he also has been hearing about plans for many years.
“This one is a totally different animal,” Collins said. “I think it’s huge for Northport and Leelanau Township and I hope it goes forward.”
One of the biggest questions about the plan is how sewage will be handled.
Scott Thompson, an engineer with Northern Civil Consulting, is meeting with the Northport Leelanau Township Utilities Authority next week to talk about extending sewer lines to Timber Shores.
The 335 campsites would be equal to 80 homes, Thompson said.
“We’re hoping that would be an increase in revenue for your system,” he said.
Much of the revenue would come in hook-up fees of $18,670 per home equivalent, which would add about $1.5 million to the cost of the Timber Shores project.
Expensive hook-up fees are what killed an affordable housing project planned for the former Leelanau Memorial Hospital in Northport. Fees would have added about $600,000 to the project proposed by the Woda Group.
The sewer was funded by the sale of $13.3 million in bonds in 2006 and faces a projected shortfall of about $1.3 million at the end of the repayment schedule. Village and township voters will decide on Nov. 5 whether to approve a Metropolitan Authority District that will levy 0.4 mills on their property taxes to pay for the shortfall.
Since Timber Shores closed in the 1970s, several plans have been floated for the property.
In the mid-1990s, Ann Arbor developer Dan Ketelaar, who was once a partner in NM Investments, proposed turning the parcel into a complex that included a marina, hotel and 350 homes.
NM Investments purchased the property in 2007 for nearly $7 million and was given approval from the township planning commission for a housing development with nearly 500 units. The plan never came to fruition after the housing crash of 2008 and the recession that followed.
Since then the company presented several plans to have the township buy and develop the property as a recreational center using a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant, but the township wasn’t biting. The plan included athletic fields; trails for hiking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing, and a boat launch, as well as RV and camping sites and possible private development of cottages and a lodge or hotel.
Unable to make its payments or keep up with the taxes, NM Investments lost the property in a foreclosure to American Bancorporation of Minnesota Inc., which had financed the purchase.
A large chunk of Timber Shores — about 212 acres — was sold in 2013 to three individual buyers, including Gregory Brothers’ Farms, which operates Cherry Bay Orchards, and two Leelanau Township couples.
Gordon’s new company, RVTS Acquisitions, in 2015 purchased 211 acres of the property back for $315,000. Documents at that time showed that Gordon still owed American Bancorp more than $5.4 million on his original purchase.