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A Condo Runs Through It
by Jim Rink

In the 1992 hit movie, "A River Runs Through It," two brothers come to grips with their emerging identities while sharing a strong common bond in the wilds of the Montana frontier. That bond is a fast-flowing river where they engage in the art of fly fishing and other, less lofty pursuits.

Leelanau County has its share of rivers, but none so memorable as to merit a movie. Leelanau's legacy is larger--a combination of natural elements which create a scenic beauty unparalleled in the Midwest: wild trilliums in cool, deep woods, cherry blossoms in May, rolling hills, amber meadows, purple vineyards, soft sand dunes, sweetly scented pines and sun-drenched beaches.

But there is a new legacy appearing on the horizon; one that we have known about for some time, but blindly choose to ignore. This is the legacy of unfettered development.

Ironically, the same natural beauty that draws people to Leelanau County and other areas in northern Michigan, now threatens its very existence. Everyone literally wants a piece of paradise. In place of cherry trees, we see houses, and not very pretty houses at that. Frankly, some parts of Leelanau County more closely resemble a large trailer park than anything else. The situation in Traverse City is so bad that many year-round residents now head to the Upper Peninsula to get away from it all--to find the wide open spaces that once dominated the Little Finger.

One can only wonder how much development the ecosystem can handle; how much more crowded it must become before clear-thinking people intervene.
"Well Marge, it's time to start planning the family vacation."

"I know--where to this year?"

"Somewhere pretty--somewhere unpolluted, uncrowded, where crystal-clear streams breed trout the size of small pigs."

"Well, the Arctic Circle is nice this time of year."
The area is growing at an exponential rate--perhaps the only two entities growing faster are Las Vegas and the Internet. Las Vegas I'm not worried about; it's mostly desert and the increased convention traffic will keep the hookers busy. Even the Internet will handle the increased traffic once Great Writing in the Beechnut Review the infrastructure catches up with demand. But once the trees and trilliums are gone; they're gone. Even "National Geographic" has done an article on the Traverse City area and how the groundwater is becoming contaminated by development.

First-time visitors to San Antonio are often stunned when they go to see the Alamo. The first shock, usually expressed by the young children, is that the Alamo is, in fact, not a car rental company at all. The adults--those who bothered to stay awake during history class--find Davy Crockett's last refuge surrounded on all sides by, yes, office buildings.

Shakespeare's Globe in London was completely demolished to make way for a cigar factory; the London Bridge was sold to a developer in Arizona and physically relocated there as a tourist attraction. It's amazing the depths to which some people will sink in pursuit of the Almighty Dollar.

The situation in Leelanau County may soon come to a head as the result of a housing development proposed on 40 acres near County Road 641 and Otto Road. Called Timber Ridge, the development proposes a cluster of 19 units (houses) in close proximity to three fruit farms and one vineyard.

"Placing a cluster of 19 homes here is a dwelling density that is ill-advised and represents a precedent that would encourage adjacent landowners to follow suit," said one local property owner. "The ripple effect would spread like Sherwin-Williams paint. Twenty, 40, 60, who knows how many dwellings would spring up, and soon you'd have a little Greilickville spawned in Bingham Township."

According to opposing landowners, such a development would cause adjacent farmland to be assessed at higher rates. In addition, new homeowners in the region would object to the use of pesticides, a practice often unavoidable on a working fruit farm. Such a development, with its attending infrastructure, they say, would be "the first nail driven into the coffin of the last four fruit farms on this end of County Road 641."

The stated intent of Article X of the Bingham Township zoning code is "to retain the rural atmosphere of Bingham Township, and to protect the wetlands, farmlands, encouraging the clustering of single family dwellings while keeping the same per unit requirements." In reality, the code makes it easier to locate houses on large parcels with uneven terrain, such as a forested area with deep gulleys or "view" property. The end result is wholesale rape of the countryside, with erosion and commercial blight taking place of the trilliums.

In reality, it is the farms and forests that give this township and county its rural, bucolic charm, not developments.

Within the past 20 years, a new "agri-tourism" has developed in northern Michigan. Many visitors to the region now come to see the wineries--a relatively new trend--and other natural accoutrements: cherry farms, grazing cattle, wild turkeys, deer. Development now threatens these agri-businesses. Take these away and what takes their place? Jet skis, beer cans and billboards, that's what.

Some legacy.

I guess there are still a few places in the country where a river runs through it--not Leelanau County, not Grand Traverse County, not anymore. Here, in the Land of Delight, a condo runs through's called names like Timber Ridge, Quail Run, Serene Valley, Paradise Cove.

I tell you, the Arctic Circle is starting to look better and better. I wonder if they have Internet access.

Also by Jim Rink
The General
Are computers the answer to the problem of education?
The Piano
A haunted theatre...
Time Warp
Is it just Jim, or is everything comin' round again?
Rails to Snails
Jim solves the Rails to Trails controversy
Squishy Uterus
On the books and thoughts of pre-parenthood
Cause Celebre
Madonna moves into Leelanau County
Christmas Memories
Home Page of Jim Rink aka User G E-Mail to Jim Rink

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