Flat River Information

Flat River Zoning Ordinance
Flat River Slow No Wake Ordinance
State of Michigan Natural River Act

Property Owners with Flat River Frontage

Welcome to new residents and greetings to existing residents!  Due to the numerous calls from existing and new purchasers of property on the Flat River inquiring about the ordinances pertaining to the Flat River District, I have put together this packet of information to assist the property owners.  Please refer to the enclosed information for explanations and definitions of any unclear terms.

The Flat River is designated by the State of Michigan as a “Natural River”, a program administered by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).  The purpose of a natural river designation is to preserve and enhance the area for water conservation, its free flowing condition, its fish, wildlife, boating, scenic, aesthetic, floodplain, ecologic, historic, and recreational values and uses.  The Flat River Zoning District is designated as 300 feet out from and along the ordinary high water mark of the river.  The first 25 feet from the ordinary high water mark is called the Natural Vegetation Strip.  Setbacks for buildings are 100 feet from the waters edge with an additional 50 feet if a bluff lot.  These measurements are calculated in the manner of a survey.  This means that an imaginary vertical line is drawn straight up from the waters edge and then horizontal the respective 25, 100 and 300 feet, in other words, measured flat horizontally.  This translates into a difference in the amount of feet these areas comprise depending on the amount of incline of any hills present from the waters edge.  A tape measure will not show the correct distance unless the topography is flat.  The steeper the hill incline, the higher the distance up the hill the 25 foot vegetative strip will be located.

At the time of designation of the Flat River as a Natural River, there were some properties that had lawns up to the rivers edge and docks different from the current ordinance.  These properties were grandfathered by the State and can maintain their docks and lawns to the waters edge if they choose to do so.  Natural growth is always encouraged, even for these properties.

There are ordinances pertaining to the setback from the waters edge where buildings can be erected and the location and size of docks, boardwalks, and river access stairs.  There are permits required for these structures.  The Zoning Administrator can assist you with the application process.

The Natural Vegetative Strip is a protected area to be left in nearly its natural state.  According to the Natural Rivers Administrator from the State, if a person takes a boat trip along the river, the shoreline should have a relatively consistent look to it.  This means each property line should not be clearly visible by means of changes in the trees and shrubs and plant life.  It is preferred by the State that minimal impact stairs, pathways and docks to and on the waters edge are established.  A minimal width path to the river thru the 25-foot natural vegetative strip is permitted.  The State does not permit cleared areas for the storage of boats and docks.  Docks and small boats should be stored above the 25-foot natural vegetative strip.  If a public or private boat launch ramp is available, then any desired larger boats should be taken in and out of the water at those locations.  It is not true that any vegetation less than 4 inches in diameter can be cut. Only dead, diseased, unsafe or fallen trees or poisonous plants may be removed in this protected 25-foot strip.  A small amount of pruning is allowed.  The zoning administrator or the state administrator may approve harvesting of timber or creating openings for public utility lines.  Please call the Township before beginning any of the above cuttings.  A root system must be maintained.  Clear cutting is prohibited.  Homes should be mostly screened from the river by this natural vegetation. 

The County of Kent owns various properties adjacent to and along the Flat River.  These areas are primarily in the vicinity of the dam and backwater of the Flat River around Burroughs Drive and Flat River Drive.  They also own other properties abutting McPherson Street and the Flat River and including Fallasburg Park.  These properties are of various sizes and include strips of land along the shoreline varying in widths of fifty to several hundred feet.  The River Bluff home development abuts one of these 50-foot strips of land bordering the river, which means that the lot owners in this development do not own river frontage.  There are other private properties that abut some of these strips as well.  The Township has a large plat map that is available for anyone to review to see where these strips are located along the river.

I am available to meet with any property owners to assist with any questions you may have regarding the Flat River District and its ordinances.  If you are uncertain, please wait on cutting any vegetation in this area until consulting with the Township or the DNR. The Flat River Natural River rules and regulations come from the DNR and they regulate river properties until townships adopt approved language based on the State’s laws.  If townships elect not to adopt or refuse to enforce ordinances on the Flat River, the DNR will enforce the state law.  Vergennes Township has elected to manage the adopted ordinance to maintain local control and better serve the residents on the Flat River with their specialized needs.  The implementation at the local level allows the Vergennes Township Zoning Board of Appeals to grant variances taking into consideration local needs and factors rather than at the state level.  The State still gives permits pertaining to some river structures.  The Township works with the DNR Natural Rivers Administrator and the DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) on structures proposed in the 25-foot natural vegetative strip and in the water or marsh area.

I hope this information and the enclosed ordinance and related materials will help everyone to maintain the protected river areas for future generations.  Please call me at the Township Hall if you have any questions.  The hall offices are open from 9:00 am until 3:00 pm Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Jeanne Vandersloot
Zoning Administrator