SVSU interested in Charity Island

Zoning needs to be addressed to move forward


WHITNEY TOWNSHIP — Charity Island may be more than just a retreat or escape in the near future – the island could be home to hotbed of scientific studies for Saginaw Valley State University students.

“SVSU is exploring the possibility of developing research initiatives on Charity Island, particularly with regard to water quality and its effect on the ecosystems and biodiversity," said Deborah Huntley, dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology. "We’re working the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reach an agreement on access to federal lands for such purposes. Any research undertaken will preserve the natural character and beauty of the island.”

Robert Wiltse, owner of Charity Island Excursions and three parcels of land on the island, said SVSU personnel were in Whitney Township about two weeks ago to discuss the prospective center with township leaders. Wiltse once owned nine lots on the island before selling six and SVSU ultimately ended up with an option to buy on one of the lots.

“Saginaw Valley State University has optioned one of the last available lots on Charity Island and will be before the Whitney Township Zoning Board in January to request a rezone on that lot,” Wiltse said.

But zoning the lot for the college to establish its center could prove difficult.

“There’s a zoning issue, said Whitney Township Supervisor Francis Semenick. “Right now, it’s (SVSU parcel) R-1, for residential.”

He added the university is hoping to get the property rezoned to a forestry district.

“That’s spot zoning, and really, our zoning ordinance says we discourage spot zoning,” Semenick said. “We’ve got some houses out there and we get worried about mixed zoning.”

However, the supervisor said that although the board is proceeding with caution, it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t welcome the SVSU research center.

“I don’t think we’re opposed to it, but we have to know more,” he said. “I encouraged them to come to our planning commission meeting on Jan. 4. … The township doesn’t really know what they’re going to do out there.”

While the process may not move forward until Jan. 4, Huntley said the opportunity for students would boost SVSU’s appeal and accountability.

“These initiatives will be a tremendous enhancement to SVSU’s research and education objectives and provide valuable data for natural resource management,” Huntley said.

Wiltse said he believes the college’s presence on the island could be beneficial to a new island attraction he is hoping takes off.

“We have been working with some other parties to develop a trip to the island that would appeal to school teachers looking to do field trips with classrooms that are studying archeology, ecology, maritime history,” he said. “We believe that SVSU’s presence on the Island will enhance the appeal of this trip to teachers.”


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