GLEN ARBOR — Glen Lake is listed in the top 1 percent of clean lakes in Michigan and many of those who live within its watershed would like to keep it that way.
A task force that formed about three years ago is in the process of creating a zoning overlay district that would put measures into place to protect surface and groundwater.
Those measures include shoreline vegetation buffers, low impact development and elimination of shoreline hardening.
The Glen Lake area has seen an influx of people moving in to develop the shoreline, and zoning needs to guide that development in a way that will protect the area’s resources, said Jim Dutmers, co-chair of the Glen Lake-Crystal River Watershed Protection Task Force.
The task force includes members of the Glen Lake Association — the driving force behind the overlay district — as well as representatives from the four townships in which the watershed lies: Glen Arbor, Empire, Kasson and Cleveland townships.
“We knew we had something that was unique in terms of watershed,” Dutmers said. “We stepped back and said, ‘How do we protect this over the next decade and for decades to follow?’”
Protecting the watershed translates into long-term stability of property values and a stable tax base, Dutmers said.
The group hired consultant Tony Groves from Progressive AE, an architectural and engineering firm, and got to work.
They looked at what other states have done, such as Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Minnesota, which have statewide shoreline development standards.
Nearby Crystal Lake has had an overlay district in place for more than 20 years, said Tricia Denton, guardian ambassador for the Glen Lake Association.
“This is not an overreach,” Denton said. “This is what’s done when there are fragile coastlines that need to be protected.”
The Glen Lake-Crystal River watershed comprises 29,721 acres and 46 square miles. It is mostly forested land containing steep slopes and highly permeable soils that filter rainwater as it makes its way through the watershed and eventually into Lake Michigan.
The top two threats to clean water are environmental pollutants and invasive species, Denton said.
“The health of our shores are our first defense against those threats,” she said.
Low impact development measures in the proposed overlay district would allow no more than 25 percent of a lot to be taken up by impervious surfaces such as driveways and roofs. It would also require that 30 percent of a lot is left in its natural vegetative state, which does not include grass.
The measures would minimize runoff and erosion by ensuring that rainwater is handled on site through natural filtration, Denton said.
Glen Lake shoreline hardening measures that include wood, steel or concrete seawalls would not be allowed in the overlay district. There are currently 15 on the lake, all of which were installed several years ago, Dutmers said.
“We’re in really good shape and we want to keep it that way,” he said.
Those seawalls already in place would be grandfathered in and would not have to be removed. Requirements in the proposed district would only apply to those structures built after the proposed district is put into place, if it is.
Another measure says that if a shoreline has a vegetation buffer, removal of that vegetation cannot exceed 20 percent.
Dutmers said the overlay district is not in response to a housing development that had been proposed for the northeast end of Fisher Lake, which lies within the watershed.
“We started this initiative in the early summer of 2017,” Dutmers said. “This is a three-year community effort.”
Conor McCahill, whose family bought the On the Narrows Marina on Glen Lake in 2008, had a contract on the parcel that includes a 45-slip marina and 1,100 feet of water frontage. Several township residents spoke out against the development at a presentation given by McCahill earlier this year to the Glen Arbor Planning Commission.
McCahill backed out of the contract at the end of January, said John Peppler, the real estate agent who listed it. Part of the property is now under contract by an undisclosed investor, he said.
Denton said that some townships already have watershed protections in place. They could also make changes to the ordinance for adoption in their own township, though the task force is hoping that all will adopt the same ordinance for the sake of uniformity.
Residents and business owners are being encouraged to go on the GLA’s website at glenlakeassociation.org to look at information on the overlay district, as planned educational forums were nixed because of COVID-19.
An survey on the proposed zoning changes will on the website later this year and responses will be used to gauge community knowledge and support.
“We want feedback,” Denton said. “We want to hear from the people this is going to directly impact.”
Public hearings must be held and the proposed overlay district will have to be approved by planning commissions and township boards in the four townships.
Any action will likely not take place until 2021, Dutmers said.