September 05, 2012 - If you take a boat ride on Whipple Lake, you'll see the usual cattails, ducks, piers, and boat hoists, but what might catch your eye is a sign painted on the underside of a wooden dock propped up on the shore stating, "Removed per township ordinance. Are you next?"
Darwin Moore place this sign on his Whipple Lake property to draw attention to a local ordinance he says is inconsistently enforced. Photo by Mary Keck (click for larger version)
The sign was made by Whipple Lake resident Darwin Moore, who received a notice of violation from the township for installing his seasonal dock without first obtaining a permit. After a court hearing on July 11, the judge determined Moore should remove the dock and acquire written approval from the township before installing it again.
Moore feels he's received mixed messages from Township Superintendent Bart Clark, Building Department Director David Belcher, and Zoning Ordinance Officer David Poole about the installation of his dock. Moore said Clark, Belcher, and Poole told him verbally at different times that he could use his dock and get a permit from the state of Michigan.
After seeking a permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Moore received a letter from DEQ District Supervisor Andrew Hartz, stating Moore didn't need a permit for a seasonal dock.
While the DEQ doesn't require a permit, Moore was informed of the township's Wetlands and Watercourses Ordinance, which states, a permit is needed if you "construct, place, enlarge, extend or remove a temporary, seasonal or permanent operation or structure upon bottomlands or wetlands."
"The township has been very unprofessional and very inconsistent," Moore said. Clark describes his interaction with Moore differently, however.
After Moore followed the court order and removed his dock, Belcher determined it was seasonal, so Clark told Moore during a meeting in late July, "There's no reason why you can't put it back in."
But later in the meeting, Clark saw the court order stating Moore needs written permission to put in his dock. "I wasn't aware that there was a court order involved in the process," Clark said.
Moore asked Clark and Belcher to give written consent by signing a letter stating their verbal opinions approving his dock; however, both township employees refused. Instead, after consulting township attorney Steve Joppich, they interpreted the court's order for "written permission" as needing a permit for the dock. Poole and Belcher did not return calls for comment.
Although Clark and Moore don't agree on what the judge means by "written approval" for a seasonal dock, they both agree the Wetlands and Watercourses ordinance could benefit from review.
"What really concerns me is it opens up a lot of doors," Moore said. When he addressed the board on August 14, he pointed out, "If our ordinances are that ambiguous maybe we need to relook at some of these...it will affect everyone with lakefront property."
At the July 17 regular board meeting, Superintendent Clark said he may offer a "recommendation to readdress our ordinance...to make it enforceable [because] to try and have our code enforcement officer address a thousand docks and piers in the township is unmanageable."
Clark interpreted the ordinance this way: "every dock and pier in Independence Township should have a permit, and I don't think we really want to go there."
What is the process to get a permit for a dock, pier, boat hoist, or other structure on a watercourse in Independence Township? According to Clark, a resident must pay $75 for an application fee and approximately $1200 to $1800 for the Planning Commission's evaluation of the application. The Planning Commission costs may be partially reimbursed later.
"Very few people have been issued a permit in the township," said Bart Clark.
From Moore's perspective, procuring a permit is "cost prohibitive," especially when his application could be denied.
Trustees Neil Wallace and David Lohmeier have indicated they would be open to revising the Wetlands and Watercourses ordinance.
"If someone can point out to us something that's an anomaly or not workable in a regulation, of course we should attempt to address it," said Wallace. Neither trustees have initiated revising the Wetlands and Watercourses ordinance thus far.
The township typically enforces the ordinance after they hear a resident complaint, Clark explained. Currently, only two violation notices have been issued based on the Wetlands and Watercourses ordinance and both violations were discovered due to complaints.
Moore says his trouble began because his next-door neighbor, Larry Osentoski, found fault with Moore's seasonal dock. Osentoski declined to comment.
Multiple homes on Whipple Lake have permanent and seasonal docks, boat hoists, and other structures that are all in violation if the owners haven't obtained a permit. Moore is the only one he knows of who has been told he needs a permit, which leads him to the conclusion that the township is enforcing the ordinance inconsistently.
Moore has complained about his neighbor's dock, but Moore's complaint hasn't resulted in a violation notice. "I have not directed any evaluation of [Osentoski's] dock," said Clark.
Now Moore is talking with other residents who live on the water, and he has collected more than 70 signatures on a petition, which states, "we the undersigned do not want Independence Township using an ambiguous 'Wetlands' ordinance to arbitrarily and capriciously regulate our 'Inland Lakes and Streams' and 'Watercourses.'"
"I just want to put my dock in," Moore said. He wants to tie his boat to the dock and attach a slide to it for his kids, but he can't do so without going through the permit process.
Clarkston News reporter