Glen Lake Association wants Overlay District to protect watershed

Glen Lake Association watershed biologist Rob Karner collects plankton on Big Glen Lake. Photo by Chris Pina

By Jacob Wheeler

Sun editor

The Glen Lake Association (GLA), which turns 75 years old this year, is advocating for the creation of an “Overlay District” to protect the Glen Lake and Crystal River watershed. The initiative, three years in the making, is modeled after the Crystal Lake Overlay District in Benzie County, which took effect 25 years ago. A consultant hired by the GLA also championed the Crystal Lake district in the mid-1990s.

“We’re trying to catch up,” said GLA watershed biologist Rob Karner. “We’re behind the Eight-ball when it comes to long-term preservation. This is an insurance plan to make sure what we have today will continue.”

Karner worries that climate change and increased development around the Glen Lakes in recent decades could accelerate their natural aging process. He sees more people, more development, and the effects of prolonged warming in the fall, which turns the bottom of the lake anoxic.

“In oceans we call those ‘dead zones’,” said Karner. “We’re finding that the amount of time without oxygen is increasing. It’s kind of like the lake has to hold its breath through the summer and fall. Normally the lake starts to turn over by mid-October. But now it’s mid-November or even later.”

The proposed Overlay District would favor shoreline vegetative buffers instead of seawalls, promote low-impact development and address stormwater run-off. 

“If there’s a natural shoreline currently, you couldn’t take it out,” said Karner. You can’t clear-cut property to get a view of the lake if there’s already a natural buffer there. But people living on property without a buffer would be exempt from requirements to put one in.”

The District would require absorbing stormwater run-off and treating it in the sandy soil as it comes off roofs, driveways and hard surfaces, instead of using drains.

“Wherever there is stormwater, you treat it at the source,” said Karner. “You also limit the amount of impervious surfaces. The size of a rooftop would be built so that you could use rain gardens and bioretention basins. That keeps you from building storm and sewer drains.”

The Glen Lake Association planned to hold educational community forums to teach the public about the Overlay District concept but canceled them because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Instead, the GLA will offer an online forum by mid-July on its website,

According to Karner, the next phase is to introduce the Overlay District concept to the planning commissions of the four townships in the Glen Lake and Crystal River watershed—Cleveland, Empire, Glen Arbor and Kasson townships. The third phase of the GLA’s push will be for the planning commissions to make recommendations to the township boards.

“Our timeline is that by Christmas we’d like this to be adopted by the four townships in a uniform way. This would be the ultimate gift that keeps on giving because it bodes well not just for the immediate future but for long-term protection of groundwater and surface water.”