Chocolay Township working to combine, clarify ordinances

William DeGroot

HARVEY — Chocolay Township is working on combining ordinances related to nuisance, noise and vehicles into a single ordinance.

Chocolay Township Manager Bill De Groot said that in December 2020, officials began working on a revision of Ordinance 37A, Regulation of Nuisance; Ordinance 55, Vehicle and Trailer Parking and Storage; and Ordinance 66, Noise, to review the language and combine the three similar ordinances into one overall ordinance.

“Our current board has started reviewing all ordinances under three lenses: health, safety and welfare. And so in doing so, we have the township zoning ordinance itself and then we have a bunch of standalone ones,” De Groot said. “We’re systematically going through our standalone ordinances to try to respond to both the three pillars of health, safety and welfare — but also trying to clarify any either vague language, or any repetitive issues that we have in the community; and also language that may be used as loopholes or different things like this.”

De Groot said officials identified those three ordinances because historically, they have led to many township investigations and have been areas of concern for residents.

“Structurally, they’re very similar, but in one ordinance, we would allow something and another we would condemn something, and so we needed to kind of — ‘OK, we can’t speak out of both sides of our mouth,'” De Groot said. “So, how do we do this?”

Having a single nuisance ordinance, he pointed out, would be an opportunity to address the issues as nuisances and they would be reviewed as such.

“That was the genesis of thinking that led us as staff to start working with the planning commission and working with the board about trying to combine these into one,” De Groot said. “Where does it make sense and then how can we be clear about it?”

He acknowledged the process has been lengthier than normal because of the number of ordinances involved and the diversity of zoning.

“What is OK to park in agricultural/forestry area is not necessarily OK to park in the village area,” he said.

De Groot said that the Chocolay Township Planning Commission wrote a draft of the ordinance in the fall, which it passed on to the township board.

The board, he noted, submitted the draft to Township Attorney Roger Zappa, which led to a revision and subsequent public hearings.

De Groot said there is still some debate around the actual noise component.

“There’s some language within the state law regarding decibels versus ‘plainly audible,'” he said. “Courts have sided with the ‘plainly audible,’ allowing the investigative officer to make the mandate according to things that were said in comparison to decibel-level meter readings, which is also defended in the state law.”

De Groot said the township wrote the proposed ordinance from the “plainly audible” perspective on the guidance of its attorney.

Officials also have looked at ways vehicles can be parked and stored, taking out opposing language within the other two ordinances to make it clear. They also further defined nuisances and what they could be, he said.

Dale Throenle, planning director and zoning administrator for the township, said officials looked at simplifying language to make issues easier to enforce and create a more “condensed, easier to understand” document.

“That was a huge guidance, if you will, for the entire direction,” Throenle said.

The focus of the proposed ordinance, he noted, centers on the question of, “What do we want everything to look like across the board?”

Throenle said, “When we looked at this, it was, ‘What are we trying to fix?’ And the overall aspect of it was to keep a certain character while at the same time not restricting people to the point of, ‘OK, I can’t live with this.'”

Throenle said the biggest problem was the township investigating individual cases, so the ordinance was written to address that issue.

De Groot called ordinances “living documents.”

“Ordinances should change as either court-dictated or community-dictated,” he said.

De Groot pointed out that the township over the last couple of years has been trying to eliminate conflicting language.

“If we’re looking at zoning enforcement, we can’t have conflicting language that allows it to happen and then takes it away in another section,” he said. “We have to be consistent, and so, that’s a big thing when we talk about both ordinance writing as well as ordinance enforcement.”

So far, feedback on the proposed nuisance ordinance has been positive, he said.

“We had a lot of support from the public on the achievements,” De Groot said, although questions have been raised regarding parking in agricultural areas — an area officials are researching to ensure compliance with the Michigan Right to Farm Act.

De Groot said officials are in the final stages of fine-tuning the proposed ordinance, the next reading of which is expected to be at the Monday township board meeting at the Chocolay Township Hall.

If the board agrees with the language, it will schedule a second reading. Typically, a motion to approve the ordinance will take place during the same meeting, De Groot said.

Health, safety and welfare, he noted, will be at the forefront of future township ordinances.

“Those are areas in which we are trying to adapt all of our future ordinances to run through those, I’ll call them, lenses,” De Groot said.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net


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