Emmet County communities find land-use partnership pays off

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Capital News Service
LANSING — Michigan communities face many obstacles as they anticipate growth, restrain sprawl, provide services and maintain or repair existing buildings, roads and water facilities.
In fact, the only certainty each community faces, Emmet County Planning Director Max Putters said, is that nothing in urban planning is certain.
However, the path couldn’t be much smoother than it is in Emmet County, the city of Petoskey, and the townships of Bear Creek and Resort, which enjoy a relationship that effectively links the communities.
This cooperation comes in the form of the mutually developed Emmet County Master Future Land Usage Plan, a long-term strategy that evolves as the communities do.
The current county master plan, adopted more than five years ago, is a modified postscript to the 1970 Master Future Land Usage Plan. The inclusion of multiple communities in the existing master plan, like its predecessor, is a unique approach not often witnessed in Michigan or elsewhere, according to a Petoskey city official.
“I don’t think it’s common for counties and nearby communities to combine resources and strategies to this extent when developing master plans,” said Brad Leech, the Petoskey city planner, “but it’s more meaningful.”
Emmet, Petoskey and the two townships contributed to workshops, public hearings and the plan’s development, Leech said. That way, everyone had an opportunity for input into the vision of how the county developed.
This cooperative spirit is not prevalent everywhere.
Cities and counties today are assessing the viability of their own master plans because of things such as unexpected population shifts, land division and environmental considerations. Other communities find themselves bitterly embattled over land use, zoning ordinances and personal desires, according to a Michigan Municipal League official.
“We are lobbyists,” acknowledged Donald Stypula, MML manager for environmental affairs, “but we’re also hometown advocates. We watch things on behalf of municipalities and taxpayers.”
The MML represents more than half of Michigan’s 532 cities and villages on a multitude of issues facing state legislators. The Ann Arbor-based organization, with a Lansing office near the State Capitol, tackles a broad range of environmental, transportation and development issues that confront cities around the state.
Changes in laws and in communities’ character also have an impact on the nature of development. While municipalities may have one vision of communities’ future and growth, state or federal government political forces may have another.
“Townships, cities, villages and counties can enact zoning ordinances that dictate how parcels (of land) will be developed, but they could all be superceded by state or federal laws,” the Michigan State University alumnus said.
In some cases, like in Lansing where the City Council nixed a request to construct a gasoline pipeline along city boundaries but was overruled in a recent court case, communities have to live with whatever development occurs.
In other cases the citizenry join forces, such as in Petoskey and Bear Creek where the communities accepted a mutual annexation that helped sustain the Bay Harbor resort development project.
Bay Harbor is a former limestone quarry and cement manufacturing site that has undergone extensive reclamation and development. Today it’s an upscale community with a marina and golf course, Putters said.
That development and the near completion of long-awaited bike paths around Little Traverse Bay demonstrate what communities can do when mutually working for a common goal, he said.
“You will sometimes secure small victories, like convincing developers to set aside tracts of land as conservancies,” said Putters, who holds master’s and bachelor’s degrees in urban planning from MSU. “Other times you can only hope to influence the division of land or resource conservation.”
Sometimes, he added, you can help direct community development so that the community’s character and appeal are also preserved.
Emmet has enacted and enforced county zoning ordinances since 1972, according to Putters. Eleven townships in the county observe those ordinances while five others have local zoning ordinances of their own.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism

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