East Bay Township Reschedules Meeting for Hotels & Residential Growth

"It’s unfortunate that we had to cancel the meeting… but it was necessary." - Beth Friend, East Bay Twp. Supervisor

A virtual meeting in Grand Traverse County had to be postponed because of overwhelming attendance. East Bay Township

The East Bay Township Planning Commission was set to meet Tuesday night. But due to a technical problem, the Zoom room stopped letting people in once they hit 100 guests, even though the township says it should accommodate up to 500 people.

Township Supervisor Beth Friend says they’ve been in touch with Zoom to figure out the problem, “We had to comply with the Open Meetings Act obviously, and the transparency that we operate here, so we had to reschedule the meeting.”

“We had three very popular issues on the agenda. So those together accumulated more than 100 people trying to attend,” Friend says. The issues include adjustments to plans for hotels – along US 31 and at Arbutus Lake. But also up for discussion is the potential sale of the Elmbrook Golf Course – to a developer with plans for mixed use, residential development.Elmbrook

Friend says, “It’s a mixture of different types of homes – housing – on that property.” It could mean hundreds of residential units on the 200+ acres. But Developer Joe Locricchio tells 9&10 news that’s already allowed under current zoning, so what they’re looking for is a variety of housing, like multi-family units. Friend says whether it’s apartments, duplexes, or single-family homes, the housing is needed. “We see every day with our assessing department the prices that housing is going for. It’s obviously quite high, not just here but elsewhere around the country. And as well, the stock on the market is pretty low too, so there is demand.”

The Verndale subdivision backs up to Elmbrook near 3 Mile and Hammond Roads, and some neighbors – like Mark Domres – aren’t thrilled with the idea. “I’ve lived here since 2009. I built here because of the golf course… that was absolutely the reason why I moved here.”Elmbrook Neighbors

This is a mulligan: The developer tried a similar effort here three years ago. Domres says, “The same investment group was here a few years ago, we met with them (prior to the pandemic).” Friend says the developer has also met with neighbors this time around. “Hopefully they were able to understand each other’s perspectives and we’ll see how that goes at the Planning Commission meeting.”

But neighbors like Dennis Stevanus hope the developer looks for a different spot in the township.  “They (the township) place low-density zoning on (this property) for many, many years of course. And now all the sudden it seems to be okay to add high-density and that’s wrong. Not amongst all these subdivisions that have built around it for the last 25 years.”

“This golf course is a beautiful piece of greenery in the middle of a lot of development of homes and other businesses. To take this piece of land and to specifically use it to make apartments and so forth, the apartments may be fine but there certainly must be more land available in the township, in the area, to use than this,” Stevanus says. And Domres agrees. “If you just look around East Bay Township for example. There’s definitely a lot of farmland that’s zoned the same way, low-density or agricultural or commercial that could be utilized for this project.”

East Bay MapDomres also worries about the impact of hundreds of new housing units, in an area that’s surrounded by blocked and private roads. “I worry about the transportation issues and the fire and ambulance and safety features that would need to be established for a project of that size. I worry about that being able to be done.” He also has trouble imagining the traffic along Hammond Road. “Do the math. That’s another 1400 vehicles depositing on to Hammond. … Just throwing that much more traffic out here. The infrastructure can’t hold it.”

Locricchio hopes residents understand the plan does not call for 900 units, which is a number that has been spread by some people in discussions. But he says, “Under current zoning you could build up to 912 units, with the existing zoning at four units to each acre.” He says that’s not what is planned here. “We’re not looking to increase density. Based on natural limitations (and topography of the golf course) I don’t think we’ll get close to that number.  It’s more about the types of housing we want to build rather than the density.”

“We’ve got to build a sense of community, sense of place, and create a project that people want to be a part of. That means amenities, livability, walkability,” Locricchio adds.Elmbrook 2

But Domres and Stevanus agree, they like the view they thought they’d be getting when they bought their homes. Domres says, as a former golf pro and as someone who grew up playing at Elmbrook, “Selfishly, I want it to be a golf course.” Stevanus was hoping to look at the golf course for the rest of his life. “I didn’t pay extra money for a lot to build next to a group of apartment buildings. Something’s wrong here. Something’s wrong when they tell me an apartment complex will add value to my property. I think that’s wrong.”

The labor shortage is also a concern for Domres. “Any contractor out there right now is hard-pressed to find people to do the jobs that are here right now. You look at the want ads… they can’t fill laboring positions right now.) To bring a project of that size … who’s going to do the work?”

Joe Locricchio emphasizes the long-range vision of the project that could take ten years or more to fulfill. He says the project will be done and phases, and also says keeping golf here in some form isn’t out of the question. Domres is worried the project will start – but come to a halt. “What happens if things turn and housing market dries up? And I’m looking at a development that starts and not finishes, in my backyard. I don’t really want that either.”

Locricchio reiterates the work is to be done in phases, and says, “Every time we do a site plan we’re going to be coming to the township, and we’ll have to get approvals.”

Elmbrook 1Domres and Stevanus think Elmbrook can survive as is, even though they know the owners are ready to get out. It’s been on the market for sale for the better part of 15 years, according to neighbors and the township. Stevanus says, “I know the people have been trying to sell it for a long time. I certainly feel for the people that are interested in selling it and retiring. I don’t know how to rectify that problem. But it’s hard for me to believe you can’t make money in a tourist town like Traverse City with a golf course. Considering all the high priced golf courses that seem to be doing just fine here.”

Domres says, “I think there’s someone out there that would buy the golf course as a golf course -and would continue to operate it as a golf course.”  Locricchio says, “Our intention right now, as we sit here today, assuming things progress, is to keep the golf course a golf course for at least a year or two.”

9&10 News reached out to Elmbrook co-owner Carolyn Olson on this story. She could not be reached for comment.

East Bay Township says they are rescheduling those Planning Commission meetings. The hotels will be on the agenda on June 1st, the rezoning of this Elmbrook Golf Property will be June 15th.