Planning Commission takes heat over zoning ordinances

EAGLE RIVER — The Keweenaw County Planning Commission addressed the County Board at the regular April meeting, to discuss zoning within the county, and to ask the board members for their thoughts regarding the zoning in the county.

“The zoning issues, I guess, can be summed up pretty easily,” John Parsons, chairman of the Planning Commission, said. “It is, as we all know, the zoning ordinance is very complicated. It’s a big document, it has an awful lot of information in it, and I guess, we would like to know what direction you guys, as the County Commissioners, are thinking you’d like to go with zoning.”

Parsons said that while the ordinance is complex, he still recognizes the need for zoning.

“We don’t want to just have building totally willy-nilly with no regard for neighbors and people getting along together.” he said.

With regard to its complications, Parsons said the Planning Commission’s options are to retain the ordinance as it is and continue to try to work with it, or attempt to simplify, clarify, and edit the document. He conceded that it is very difficult to work with.

Board Chairman Don Piche replied that that those are basically the thoughts of the County Board members.

“I personally think it should be simplified.”

Parsons agreed that the document is extremely over complicated and as an example, said that in regarding just the residential districts, there is RR-A, RR-B, RR-C.

“And that’s all based on lot size,” he said. “Well, we can probably size that down and grandfather in the smaller lots, instead of having several different districts, just have a residential district.”

“Just make it easier for the people to understand it, to be able to work with it,” said Piche.

Commissioner Del Rajala said he was not on the County Board when the county inherited the zoning ordinances, but he is sure they were not studied by an attorney when they were written.

“But, we all know,” he said, “that are some ordinances that just don’t sit right with people. We’ve all heard the complaints, and it’s not anything against any one individual in this room, or employed with the county, or that is on the committees.”

But, he added, it may be prudent to first conduct due diligence on those complaints that our residents want or need to have modified.

He said he is not upset with anyone or anything, but feels the complaints of the residents should be a priority, and suggested preparing a “short list” to address the complaints.

Zoning Administrator Ann Gasperich asked Rajala if he would compile the list, to which he agreed.

Parsons said that the commission has already pared down the section on private road zoning, and is now much more concise than it previously was, but to re-write the ordinance would require funding. The task should be done by a professional to assist the commission to look at some of the sections, and also it is labor intensive.

“We meet once a month,” Parsons said, “and our meetings might be one to two hours, but for as far as editing and fixing the ordinance, we can’t do that our monthly meetings. We’d have to have some work sessions.”

Barry Koljonen, vice chairman of the Planning Commission, said the intention was to contract with a consultant to assist with the work, but the commission had no idea on a dollar amount. He concurred with Parsons that it is too much for the planning commission to take on, and there could be some legalities that the commission may not be aware of.

Rajala will also reach out to the townships to see what complaints they have, and will also bring forward any complaints they bring to him.


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