M-22 Private Landowner Conservation Initiatives
PART ONE OF TWO
by Rick Wilson
Michigan State Highway M-22 has evolved during this century from a muddy wagon track to a major transportation link between the coastal villages of Leelanau County. The highway serves multiple purposes: major artery of commerce for Leelanau County, scenic corridor for viewing some of the County's most memorable vistas, and gateway to the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore for over 1.5 million visitors.
Roads, and especially M-22, are the primary venue by which people experience and relate to the surrounding landscape of Leelanau County. We experience the landscape in the act of passing through it, and tend to think of a region as a set of interconnecting journeys. Very few people have intimate knowledge of more than a handful of local places within our County, but most of us carry within us a visual inventory of all the scenery available from the public roadway. In an area where the tourist dollar is one of the prime fuels of the economy, the variety and richness of visual experience, the shifting alignment and rural detail of the landscape, the passing views of lakes and ponds, a historic church or school, these things contribute to a healthy bottom line.
So what have we been doing in Leelanau County to care for one of our most precious assets, our scenic highway? Twenty years from now, will the terms scenic and rural apply to much of M-22's sixty mile length, or will they apply only to preserved stretches within the National Lakeshore? In short, do we have the tools to protect our most visible scenic asset?
Thinking About the Roadway
First of all, the public owns a 66 foot or 100 foot wide right-of-way strip. While the management of the highway and the public access to its scenic attractions is important, private landowners control the destiny of most of the M-22 corridor.
With the advent of zoning in the 1970's, master plans were drawn to shape development in our communities. M-22 was viewed as primarily an artery of commerce, so local planners tended to designate the corridor for intensive uses, including commercial and residential development. The thinking was that these uses, requiring a fully developed transportation system, should be located adjacent to the existing highway.
But the type of development encouraged by zoning - a proliferation of new homes and businesses located adjacent to the immediate highway corridor - is only one of the threats to the visual quality and safety of the roadway. While most people tend to think of the visible impact of new large development, such as major resorts and shopping centers, these types of highly visible projects do not constitute the primary threat to the M-22 corridor. An inventory of the M-22 Corridor completed this year by Conservancy staff, with assistance from the Leelanau County Planning Department, did reveal several important threats to the corridor. Among them:
Proliferation of single family homes in the immediate corridor.The Future of the M-22 Road Corridor
Recognizing the asset which M-22 represents to the entire region, the Leelanau County Planning Commission and the Leelanau Conservancy have been working to understand and inventory the elements which comprise the scenic corridor, and develop strategies which lead to its preservation.
Over the winter months, public meetings will be held to discuss four broad types of strategies which provide additional tools to preserve the scenic qualities of the M-22 corridor:
Assistance in site planning for single family homes and new developments can help to minimize impacts upon the corridor. Examples include ridgetop developments which move houses slightly back or below the crest of the hill, a simple way to minimize visual impact. New homes can be tucked into the edge of wooded areas where they are screened from view of the highway. Local planning commissions need to consider reasonable efforts to encourage clustering of new homes, and use of common access drives for homes and businesses. This is consistent with the General Plan, and assistance is available from the County Planning Department.
Use of voluntary private covenants, such as greenbelt conservation easements to permanently restrict development in the most important viewsheds is already underway, with over twenty conservation easements on the M-22 corridor completed by the Conservancy in the past six years.
Possible designation as a Heritage Route through the Michigan Department of Transportation. Designation can lead to greater local control over MDOT activities, such as widening, straightening, and signage. It can also enhance eligibility for programs which assist local communities in developing parks and scenic turnouts. Assistance in funding the inventory was provided by the Coastal Zone Program of the Michigan DNR. Additional help in publicizing voluntary techniques of conservation for the corridor is being provided by the NPS River, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program. In part 2 of this feature, the variety of voluntary corridor protection efforts which have been undertaken between landowners and the Leelanau Conservancy will be considered in greater detail.
The Leelanau Conservancy is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of the character of Leelanau County. Conservancy projects such as this are solely funded by donations.