Some Westacres community residents are not pleased about a West Bloomfield Township ordinance that limits the number of watercraft they have been accustomed to having on Middle Straits Lake.

Some Westacres community residents are not pleased about a West Bloomfield Township ordinance that limits the number of watercraft they have been accustomed to having on Middle Straits Lake.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Controversy on Middle Straits Lake

Number of watercrafts permitted on Middle Straits Lake divides property owners

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published August 18, 2022


WEST BLOOMFIELD — On July 18, a letter was submitted to the West Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees on behalf of the Westacres Community Association.

The letter requests that the board “inform itself about and take appropriate actions to resolve the controversy and allegations from the Township targeting the Westacres community. The controversy was created by a few lakefront property owners that want to reduce the overall number of boats on Middle Straits Lake for their personal benefit at the expense of the rights of Westacres and its 281 households.”

The letter goes on to expand on the primary issue at hand, according to the letter writer.

“Through the use of the Middle Straits Lake Improvement Association, a few lakefront property owners are orchestrating and attempting to manipulate Township officials to use Township powers to reduce the number of boats on Middle Straits Lake for their personal benefit. The MSLIA is asking the Township to attempt to misapply ordinances to reduce the number of boats allowed on Westacres’ 3,750 feet Outlot L from over 85, as had been docked in recent years, to 47.”

According to Westacres Community Association President John Moran, West Bloomfield Township conducted a lake survey in October 1988. At that time, Westacres community owners were recorded to have had 47 watercraft, he said.

However, for years after that survey was recorded, according to Moran, Westacres had over 85 boats docked/moored off of Outlot L.

In May of 2020, West Bloomfield Township issued a code compliance request, stating that Westacres had exceeded the number of boats it had in the water when the survey was conducted in 1988.

“The reason why they have come after us is, people have been filing complaints, saying that we have too many boats,” Moran said in an interview with the  Beacon. “They don’t like how many boats we have.”

Prior to May 2020, according to Moran, based on MSLIA complaints, the West Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees voted on and unanimously approved a resolution to form a committee to investigate and address the situation.

“During the July 2019 meeting, Township Board members stated that, ‘In order to be fair to the process, safety on the lake could not be the exclusive responsibility of one association,’” the Westacres’ letter addressed to the Board of Trustees states. “It was suggested that all lakes needed to be reviewed, along with adjoining townships. Trustees and the Township attorney expressed concerns about spot zoning and the potential for lawsuits. The committee never convened and nothing was done, despite the July 2019 unanimous resolution.”

Middle Straits Lake is in West Bloomfield Township and Commerce Township and is accessible to the public via a West Bloomfield Township-owned public access ramp at Bloomer Park.

The 47 watercraft currently allowed for Westacres is a dramatic reduction from the 89 that community members had in the water as late as 2020, according to Moran.

“So the reduction would be from 89 to 47, which is a pretty significant reduction, and we’ve been doing that number of boats (89) for the last 25 years,” he said. “We’ve been doing in the 80s for the last 25 years, so our level of use has been consistent for quite some time.”

Westacres took its case before the West Bloomfield Township Zoning Board of Appeals Aug. 4 and was unanimously “denied on all counts,” according to Moran.

“What was approved was that they were willing (for) us to have 47 boats, which is a cut from what we’ve been doing for the last 25 years,” he said.

According to Moran, in 2021 West Bloomfield Township instructed Westacres to apply for and secure a marina permit from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

An application for 80 slips was approved by EGLE last year.

“Although the Township instructed Westacres to get the permit, the Township has refused to honor the EGLE Marina Permit, which approves 80 boats/slips off of Outlot L,” the Westacres’ letter states. “The Township continues to tell Westacres not to exceed 47 boats on Outlot L.”

From Moran’s perspective, the EGLE permit is in line with what Westacres has already been doing for more than two decades.

“We got a marina permit, which the township asked us to get,” he said. “What’s remained constant is that we’ve had the same dock footprint, and that is what the state approved. It’s consistent with what we’ve been doing for the last 25 years.”

West Bloomfield Township Planning and Development Services Director Amy Neary weighed in on the state’s approval for a permit.

“They went to EGLE for a marina permit, and EGLE granted them a permit, but that did not supersede local jurisdiction, in terms of regulating the land use along the waterfront,” Neary said. “That falls under the zoning ordinance. They need to comply with both. So they would need to comply with getting a permit from the state, and they also need to comply with the township’s regulations.”

Victor J. Torres of the Mike Cox Law Firm is representing Westacres.

“The township says it doesn’t have to honor the marina permit because the marina permit is still subject to the township ordinances. We disagree with that, but that’s the township’s position,” Torres said.

Moran said that “true” lakefront homes are zoned R-10 and are permitted to have one dock for every 70 feet.

“And with that dock, as a true residential lakefront home, you can put unlimited watercraft on that dock,” he said. “You could pile up as many things there as you could fit, as long as they were all yours and you’re able to do that in 70 feet.”

Section 4.50 of West Bloomfield Township’s zoning ordinance is titled “Waterfront Property.” From the township’s perspective, Westacres is a platted subdivision and a recreational park.

Part of that section of the zoning ordinance reads that, “the launching of boats from recreational parks shall not be permitted nor shall boats be allowed to be docked at recreational parks.”

Based on that criteria, according to Neary, “Essentially, if you are located in a platted subdivision, no boats are permitted.”

Neary sent an email that expanded on her point.

“As determined by the ZBA during their meeting, Westacres is a platted subdivision with a recreational park and is subject to Section 4.50.1. Platted subdivision recreational parks are not permitted to launch or dock boats,” she stated. “Westacres recreational park is an existing nonconforming use and, therefore, is permitted to keep (‘grandfathered’) the number of boats that existed when the ordinance language prohibiting the docking or launching of boats was established (i.e., 47). This number cannot be expanded.”

However, Moran pointed out that Westacres is under R-15 zoning, according to the township ordinance.

In section 4.50, under “Number of Spaces/Feet of Lake Frontage,” it reads that there are “2 boats/100 feet” permitted for R-15 zoning.

Moran believes that the township’s position does not line up with its own ordinance.

“We’re fighting to get the rights that are given to people on R-15. We’re asking to be granted the rights of what our zoning provides, at a minimum,” he said. “In the effort to compromise through this process, we have said, ‘Hey, worst-case scenario, we should be granted what our zoning dictates because that’s the zoning, it’s law, and R-15 grants one dock with two boats every 100 feet.’ So that’s 37.5 docks, and if you do 37.5 times two … we should, at a minimum, be able to get 75 boats.”

Middle Straits Lake Improvement Association President Jeff Carroll discussed the possibility of Westacres being permitted 75 boats.

“According to our membership, that seems too high,” he said. “It’s not Jeff Carroll or the board. We had an all-lake meeting in June; we had over 50 people there, and every one of ’em was like, ‘We need to minimize the number of boats.’ So, OK, we’re a board for you. That’s what we’ll try to do.”

According to Carroll, a potential resolution to the issue was previously offered to Westacres.

“We were willing to meet right in the middle — 63 boats. They won’t go below 75,” Carroll said. “Even that number, our membership isn’t too excited about, but we (want to) get the agreement done and start healing relationships.”

Moran shared an explanation of Westacres’ landscape.

“Ours is a piece of property that’s owned by the community that’s on the water; we don’t have any true lakefront lots in our community,” Moran said. “Our 281 residents are all what are called back-lotters, if you will, because the property we own together, collectively as a community, called Outlot L, that is our property that touches the water.”

Moran expanded on his point.

“We look at that piece of property and say, ‘Hey, we have riparian rights to that property, and part of those rights are the ability to use it for boats,’” he said.

The state of Michigan defines riparian rights as “those rights that are associated with the ownership of frontage bordering bottomlands, subject to the public trust.”

Moran discussed what it is that Westacres is seeking.

“Our situation has been, ‘We just expect to be able to put as many boats on our property as everybody else does around the lake,’” he said. “Why is it different? … It should be fair and equal treatment.”

Cindy Kamerad is a resident of the Westacres subdivision. She is of the opinion that only allowing 47 watercrafts could have a negative financial impact for residents of the community.

“The challenge is, by reducing our allotment of docking on the lake from in the 80s to 47, that dramatically impacts the property value of the 281 homes in the Westacres subdivision,” Kamerad said.

Kamerad shared another consequence of the ZBA’s ruling.

“We’ve had 89 individuals that have had dock spaces, and based on this ruling, we as a community will need to now pull back that privilege from 42 homeowners,” she said.

In regard to which homeowners will be without dock space, Moran said, “the last guy in is gonna be the first guy out.”

Moran discussed the next most likely step in the process.

“Our next step would be to file an appeal against the decision (from) the Zoning Board of Appeals,” he said. “We would file an appeal with Oakland County Circuit Court.”

According to Torres, Westacres’ chance at a successful appeal is “pretty good.”

Moran said that Westacres is 100% natural, undeveloped property, and his aspiration is to take advantage of what it has to offer, minus all the drama that has ensued.

“Our goal is to resolve this, protecting the rights of our community, not hurting the property values of our community, so that we can go back to actually enjoying this beautiful asset of Middle Straits Lake,” he said. “Get back to actually enjoying the lake, instead of fighting about it.”