By Michael Buhler and Jacob Wheeler
The Glen Arbor Township Board held a special meeting today to respond to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) regarding an application for a marina expansion on Big Glen Lake. On the Narrows Marina owner Conor McCahill seeks to add an additional 39 boat slips on a new dock, bringing the total to 46, as well as increase the moorings to 16. On the Narrows Marina is located on the M-22 state highway, just north of the Carl Oleson Memorial Bridge, which divides Big and Little Glen Lake.
Over 100 residents and interested neighbors listened in the gymnasium as the Board met to discuss the issue. Since this was a meeting and not a hearing, public comment was limited to the end of the session. Township Zoning Administrator Bob Hawley reviewed the requirements of the Resort zone, and noted that the marina and its structures are a non-conforming use of the property, grandfathered into the original 1975 zoning plan. He questioned whether an expansion would then make this a “more non-conforming use,” and necessitate the entire project to come into zoning compliance, which it then could not do.
After deliberation and audience input, the Board voted 4-0 to write a letter to the DEQ noting its concerns over parking, pedestrians, road safety, navigation at the bridge, water safety, and the potential for pollution. The Board also asked the DEQ to conduct a public hearing on the matter.
Andy DuPont, President of the Glen Lake Association (GLA), reported that he was assured by Robin Schmidt of the DEQ that the department plans to hold a public hearing, and that online links where citizens can comment on the application, and a PDF of the application itself, are available on the GLA website, www.GlenLakeAssociation.org. You can also comment on the DEQ’s website here and view the PDF here NarrowsMarinaExpansionApplication. The GLA and Township Board encourage everyone to make their views known to the DEQ, and the GLA website will share any updates on the application — as well the Glen Arbor Sun via GlenArbor.com.
On the DEQ application last month, McCahill wrote, “Due to high demand, we would like to expand our boat slip and mooring offerings. If permitted we would simply install additional freestanding seasonal docks and move and expand our mooring field. This would take place in Spring 2012. … There is very high demand for slips and moorings on Glen Lake that we currently cannot accommodate. … Following our pre-application meeting we adjusted our layout and design to exclude a boat ramp and any dredging activity. This will require more dock sections to be used, but eliminate dredging in the shallow areas.”
In an open letter to the Glen Lake community posted at On the Narrows Marina’s website today, the McCahill family wrote: “Our objective in seeking expansion is to provide more opportunities for others to have access to the lake. We have a long waiting list from local residents seeking lake access for their boats. Most of our mooring customers are members of the local community and favor having boat slips as opposed to moorings. While we anticipated there would be opposing opinions, some quite legitimate and others self centered, the ﬁrst step in the process is to comply with state law which we know will inevitably lead to a public hearing where we look forward to answering questions, addressing concerns and hopefully ﬁnding solutions that allow further access to a wonderful natural resource for Glen Lake residents, families and visitors.”
On the Narrows Marina’s expansion plans on Big Glen Lake have spread like wildfire through the local media. TV 7&4 news jumped on the story on Tuesday, quoting resident Kathy Schmid, who owns a home on the lake, as saying she’s worried that “peaceful summers on Glen Lake will turn into a crowded party atmosphere with the expansion.” Schmid also worries that the area wouldn’t be able to accommodate extra parking or restrooms that would be needed for the influx of visitors.
On Wednesday, the Traverse City Record-Eagle described On the Narrows as a “sleepy little marina” and quoted Kathy’s brother Greg Schmid as saying, “I think this is the first robber baron taking advantage of us being called the most beautiful place in America. I think by next year we’ll lose that designation.” The Schmids worry that the addition of nearly 40 boat slips will turn the Glen Lakes into “another party spot like Torch Lake.”
“They are valid concerns,” Conor McCahill told the Sun. “From our point of view, we don’t see why we can’t work with the community to address them and get something done. We take the lake very seriously, and we’re not looking to cause any harm. We’re just looking to expand and meet demand on the lake.”
McCahill conceded that parking is an issue in the congested area north of the Narrows Bridge. He suggested that the parking lot in front of “McCahill’s Crossing” — the former Narrows Dairy Bar, which will re-open this summer — is a possible solution.
“Parking is an issue. But it’s an issue throughout Glen Arbor too. There are different options in our plan. We own the property across the bridge. We could perhaps do a shuttle service.”
McCahill sought to address concerns that the expansion will overcrowd the lake with traffic.
“Our goal, as far as the expansion is concerned, is to allow more people to use the lake. It’s a misconception that the lake will all of a sudden become overcrowded with boat traffic. Our clientele are mostly people from the community who are already on the lake. They just want to put their boat somewhere where they don’t have to use the ramp every single day.”
The McCahills contracted the Traverse City-based surveying and engineering firm Gourdie-Fraser to investigate riparian rights and bottomlands where the docks and moorings would go. Conor McCahill believes that On the Narrows owns the riparian rights south of the marina.
“People are under the impression that that is not our land, but we went through the process, and it is,” he said. “All we’re looking for is an opportunity to work with the community to get this accomplished. If the plan goes through and we have a separate pier, that’s just another place where people can park their boats. Another avenue, so the lake is not as congested.”
Tom and Carol McCahill, and their three adult children, Conor, Megan and Neil, originally from Littleton, Colo., purchased the marina from Jack and Marcie Ferris in 2008 and re-opened it in 2009. Read our feature on the McCahills here. They recently acquired the former Dairy Bar on the south side of the Glen Lake narrows and plan to open that soon. Last summer, employees of On the Narrows won the adoration of the community when they saved a tiny fawn from drowning in Big Glen Lake.