Torch Lake

The clear-cut area is the site of a proposed RV park in Milton Township’s unincorporated Torch River village.

TORCH RIVER — Milton Township planning officials denied a developer’s request to build an RV park in Torch River village that made waves among the neighbors for more than a year.

Township planning commissioners on Tuesday night unanimously voted to deny a special use permit and site plan for the 80-site Torch River RV Park proposed by the landowner. The decision follows a consultant’s study that reviewed how existing traffic might be affected by the park and months of community-wide contention.

Opponents argued the design would put too many campers in too small a space, leading to additional summertime traffic congestion at Torch Lake’s southern end; others raised environmental concerns about septic and stormwater flow from the development — particularly after two major erosion events last summer during heavy thunderstorms that washed sediments onto neighboring property.

One neighbor argued during this week’s meeting that denying the developer permission to build was best for the whole community.

RV park proponents were “grasping at straws” for reasons the development would benefit the community, said Mark Hatch, who also criticized the applicant for clear-cutting the site without township approval.

The project developers are landowner Jim Brewer and business partner John Peal, owner of Torch River Marine.

Brewer said his contractors have faced road rage and verbal abuse from neighbors, and the only work done on site has been stabilization efforts to meet county requirements.

Antrim County Soil Erosion Officer Heidi Shaffer confirmed the clear-cut site led to erosion problems during heavy rain events last year, and she since OK’d a soil erosion permit to allow work to prevent future washouts, as previously reported.

The affected neighbor entered mediation with the developer over the washout damages.

Bill Hefferan, planning commission chairman, said he knows emotions have been “running high” about this proposal, but how township officials personally feel was irrelevant. He also said it was important for officials to make a decision on the application first submitted more than 18 months ago.

“Whoever has the most friends or the most money doesn’t matter. That’s not how this works,” Hefferan said.

Before voting, planning commissioners discussed green belt conditions, the number of park exits, and whether clear-cutting work already done would meet a requirement for any development to maintain the natural character of the site. Officials said what did not happen was a negotiated reduction in the number of proposed sites to protect that character.

Commissioners also debated whether to approve the special use permit and site plan with conditions, but opted against that because there would be a substantial checklist to tick off.

Chris Weinzapfel, township zoning administrator, said commissioners must specifically word any conditions they wanted met.

But the planning commissioners didn’t want to pursue that route.

“I don’t think it’s my business to build anyone’s application,” Hefferan said.

In the end, the commissioners voted to deny the request, and discussed the expectation of Brewer re-submitting a new site plan after making changes.

Brewer’s Traverse City-based lawyer Andrew Blodgett said nothing about this process has been normal: a lot of back-and-forth with a subcommittee tasked with reviewing the plan, and changing standards from month to month.

Blodgett argued it would not be “out of bounds” for planning commissioners to provide specific conditions to be met, rather than making the applicant start over.

“We’ll be here for a year again,” he said.

The planning commission denied the application on the grounds that: it would disturb existing and future uses of the vicinity and community; it would not be adequately served by public services like fire protection; it would not ensure a preserved environment by minimizing tree and soil removal; and, it would not comply with the township’s zoning.

The proposed RV park drew considerable public attention, with more than 50 participants watching Tuesday’s meeting via online videocon- ferencing in addition to those who attended in person.

A year ago, more than 120 people attended a public hearing on the proposal that took place in a local park to allow for physical distancing during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most who spoke that day said they opposed the project.

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