2009-02-14 / Top News

Committee Will Suggest Clearer Language for Land Use, Structures

By Ryan Schlehuber

While working to clarify language about structures and land use on Mackinac Island that don't conform to current standards, an ordinance committee and the city attorney are grappling with whether to allow damaged buildings to be restored to their previous condition if that condition is illegal under the ordinance. Ultimately, the committee and attorney decided to recommend that City Council or the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) could allow it, without a formal variance, in special circumstances to be determined by Council or the ZBA.

The committee will recommend amendments to the ordinance, to be considered next by City Council.

"Our goal is make more clear the language between non-conforming use and non-conforming structures," said city attorney Tom Evashevski, after a conference call meeting with the ordinance committee Tuesday, February 10. "The existing ordinance doesn't make that distinction."

The committee suggests classifying all non-conforming structures on the Island under Class A status, which allows a property owner to restore a damaged, non-conforming building without a variance if no more than 50% of the building is changed.

The committee is also going to recommend Council remove other class status from the ordinance, allowing all structures to fall under the Class A status stipulations.

Structures under the Class B non-conforming status cannot be restored to preexisting non-conforming features unless a variance is acquired. Class C status applies to residential shoreline structures only. There are only three on the Island existing today, said Mr. Evashevski.

The committee also is in favor of making either Council or the city's Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), which is comprised of all council members plus a Planning Commission member, be the decision-maker on reviewing and granting nonconforming building requests.

The existing ordinance names the Planning Commission as the review board on requests to expand non-conforming buildings, which, said Mr. Evashevski, is not a good idea.

"That is a non-elected board," he said. "To allow a non-elected body to extend a use that is illegal according to our ordinance is not consistent with ordinance rules."

In previous meetings, some committee members were concerned that the amendments may be too strict for a property owner who has lost a historic building that is considered non-conforming, according to Mr. Evashevski.

"My concern," he added, "is if we make the ordinance more lax than this draft, that we'll weaken the ordinance, if not undermine it. We'd be saying we're not serious about our ordinance. If a non-conforming building is destroyed by fire, for example, I can't see why we would allow it to be rebuilt back to non-conforming status."

After further discussion with the committee, Mr. Evashevski agreed with the committee to create language in the amendment that will provide relief to special circumstances where the owner of a damaged non-conforming building can ask for relief from either the ZBA or Council, and that board, if it feels the building should be restored to its original design, can grant restoration without a variance, even though the building may be non-conforming.

"The general rule is we want non-conforming structures to comply with current rules when more than 50% of the building is being rebuilt," said Mr. Evashevski. "But we want to leave room for any special exceptions as they come up."

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