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Unintended consequences in Keweenaw County zoning

Keweenaw County is engaged in a yearslong process to review their zoning ordinance. Keweenaw is among a minority of Michigan counties with zoning ordinance because populations are so small that staffing the required administrators and commissions at the township level is difficult. The county provides a service to townships by administering zoning ordinance.

The Planning Commission has recommended several changes to the zoning ordinance, some contradicting the master plan and likely to cause unintended negative consequences. The PC recommends modifying the single-family dwelling to include any number of unrelated people as opposed to the current limit of at most six unrelated people. Large families in the county are not affected in any way by this change; however, the proposed change would allow any dwelling to be occupied by any number of unrelated people.

What is the problem? It would effectively allow operation of boarding houses, party houses or hostels adjacent to existing family residences, irrespective of zoning. The definition of family is foundational to much of the ordinance appearing more than 100 times in the document.

Searching other ordinance reveals family definitions generally include those related by blood, marriage, adoption, etc; and like Keweenaw County, implicitly or explicitly defining functional families as a limited number of people related in a regular and permanent nature, (e.g. Cities of Marquette, Bessemer, Mount Pleasant, Eagle Harbor Township, Portage Township).

With this approach, residential zones are restricted to families and functional families, excluding what would effectively be boarding houses, apartments and perpetual transient party zones negatively impacting quality character and integrity of residential neighborhoods.

Changing the family definition in the Keweenaw County ordinance would remove those protections of the character and integrity of residential neighborhoods, effectively converting single-family residential zones into de facto multifamily zones.

The proposed ordinance would also allow unlimited numbers of people in short-term rental units, effectively creating unlimited commercial motels operating in single family zones. Residents expecting a peaceful small-town or rural experience would have no recourse against such developments.

Commissioners have not explained motivation for change — what problem is being solved?

The sensible action is for the commissioners to deny, or at least table, the change and follow procedure for incorporating public input, and request a third-party review from a qualified land-use planner, to avoid this and other unwanted and unintended consequences that may occur from ordinance changes currently being contemplated.

Now is the time to act by calling Keweenaw County commissioners and request that this unneeded change, in the zoning ordinance, with unwanted consequences, be denied at the June 19 county commission meeting. The board can also be addressed directly during the meeting when public input is taken. Letters asking the board to deny this change can be emailed to the county clerk at clerk@keweenawcountymi.gov or by contacting commissioners directly by phone at https://www.keweenawcountyonline.org/commissions-board.php.

John W. Kern

Keweenaw County

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