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Warnings on boat parking stir confusion

August 10, 2011 - By Joe St. Henry

Review Editor

An Orion Township ordinance put in place in the 1980s and updated last November with little fanfare, is now confusing boat owners and officials alike.

The ordinance essentially states persons who choose to park their boats in their driveway any time of the year may now receive a $500 ticket from Orion, if they do not respond to an initial warning.

"We're not actively seeking violations," said Tim London, an Orion Township building inspector in charge of ordinance enforcement. "But, once we get a complaint from someone, we're obligated to investigate. If there's a violation of an ordinance, we have to address it."

The issue rose to the forefront in July when London received a complaint from a Keatington Subdivision homeowner about a recreational vehicle parked in a driveway. After discovering other violators in the neighborhood with boats in driveways, 43 "Notice of Violation" letters were distributed.

The letter, dated July 26, stated that if the boat was not moved by last Friday, the homeowner would be fined plus forced to move the vessel.

"We were blindsided," said Keatington Homeowners Association (KHA) President Warren Width. "I wasn't aware of the ordinance or situation until people started getting the notices and then, of course, they contacted me."

Orion Township Zoning Ordinance 78, Sec. 27.04 (C-2-C) Recreational Vehicle Storage states property owners within the SF, SR, SE, R-1, R-2 or R-3 zoning districts may store working, licensed trailers, motor homes, boats, snowmobiles, jet skis, all-terrain vehicles and similar vehicles on their own property or residence for an indefinite period of time in the side or rear yards.

In addition, the ordinance states in lots within the R-1, R-2 or R-3 zoning districts which are at least 20,000 square feet in size, no more than two recreational vehicles may be stored or parked within the front yard but not within the required front-yard setback. Few, if any, lots in the Keatington Subdivision, as well as many others in the township in neighborhoods, are this size.

"The lots in Keatington are smaller and many have mature trees and landscaping," said Leif Anderson, a ten-year Keatington resident who has parked his boat in the driveway with no previous problems. "For many of us, it's impossible to park a boat in the back yard and nobody wants to do that anyways, so our only real option is to put it in the side yard. The problem with that is a boat cannot be parked within 10 feet of the property line and there is just no room on many lots."

To address this concern about "accessory items" in side yards, the Township Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) was asked to interpret the ordinance at its Aug. 8 meeting.

Unfortunately, the ZBA had its own concerns with the wording of the ordinance as it stands. It agreed with Anderson, who spoke at the meeting, that the ordinance is ambiguous and the ZBA refrained from interpreting it.

"This ordinance needs to be rewritten," said ZBA member Donald Walker. "That is the responsibility of the Orion Township Board, not ours."

Tom Berger, Orion Township Building Official, did offer a recommendation. "Take a couple of words out of the current ordinance and it fits," he said. "Let people keep their recreational vehicles where it makes sense and keep our ordinance officer sane."

In addition to discussing the parking of boats and other recreational vehicles in side yards, questions also arose during the ZBA meeting about the ordinance's wording -- or lack thereof -- regarding recreational vehicles in front yards.

"Nowhere in the current ordinance does it say you can't put a boat in your front yard," said ZBA Township Board Representative Mark Crane.

For homeowners with bigger lots and longer driveways, ZBA Planning Commission Representative Sandra Dyl wondered why anyone would care where they parked their boats, as long as they are the required 35-feet from the road.

"This issue was initially raised to address the big motor homes parked in small driveways, along with company vehicles, that tended to clutter front yards," she said.

London said the majority of Keatington homeowners who received letters whom he has spoken to seem to understand the Township's position and intent of the ordinance, although they are not pleased.

"I understand they're not happy, since this is a boating community, but most have complied," he said. "There are no plans to issue tickets at this time."

Berger added the Township needs to "slow the process down"until the issue is resolved."

"For subdivisions that are intertwined with lakes, maybe there should be different rules," added Crain, as the ZBA discussion came to a close.

London said he is contacting the KHA, as well as those who received the warning letters, to update them on the next steps toward resolving the situation.

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