By Sal LaFata
Meridian Times staff writer
Seven years ago, a committee was created to form an urban service boundary that would include Meridian Township.
Today, the committee is able to present its decisions on the boundary, including research and findings.
This topic was discussed at the Meridian Township Board Meeting on Feb. 22.
Harmony Gmazel, land use planner at Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, led the topic and gave a presentation of the committee’s findings and opinions.
According to Gmazel, since the regional growth project was adopted in 2005, a main topic discussed has been the urban and rural service districts and the possibility of sharing services, thus saving money. Looking at an urban service boundary for the township was also a topic.
Additionally, the committee is trying to keep urbanized areas viable, protect farmland open space and rural quality of life, preserve priority conservation areas, use existing infrastructure, and be cost efficient through cooperation and effectiveness.
“It is important to strengthen our urban cores and create viable and sustainable communities which is, of course, attractive to the work force, attracts new economy workers, businesses and alike, and elevates the quality of life in our region,” said Gmazel.
An urban service boundary is a tool for managing urban sprawl. Such boundaries allow a unit of government to publicly declare that a specific area surrounding a municipality will be the target for urban growth, and indicate that areas beyond that boundary will not be supported with public services.
Such boundary lines are typically enforced by limiting water or sewer services, rather than extending them constantly to help support suburban development. The boundary is an excellent source for growth management, according to Gmazel.
With help from the government and from citizens, the urban service boundary can go from idea to reality.
“Trust is a very important issue for this committee as it moves forward,” said Gmazel.
The committee has many steps to take in the year 2011. First, the committee must establish and grow trust between communities. Next, they must formalize a commitment to the boundary, adopt the boundary into the land policy, and explore and employ tools to support the boundary.
“We have our work cut out for us,” said Gmazel.
After comparing the ideal position of the boundary to the zoning districts and other boundaries, the committee came up with the position it felt was best.
Julie Brixie, treasurer for Meridian, said, “You can see for most of the region, the yellow is inside the line, but in Meridian it’s not…it seemed like you sort of deviated from your criteria for part of drawing the line.”
The yellow area referred to is the urban core areas of the center of the tri-county area.
Gmazel responded that the line was part of the process of where to begin. The committee had to look at what was on the books at one time, and go from there. The line is not final by any means.
“We know that there are deviations…Meridian’s is not the only one,” said Gmazel.
Catherine Ash, superintendent of Okemos Public Schools, also had a concern about the committee and the boundary.
“It would have been nice to have public schools represented somewhere along the line. It seems to me a voice that is missing is public schools,” said Ash.
John Veenstra, a trustee for Meridian, was a fan of the boundary.
“I support the concept of an urban service boundary. I think it is an economic necessity,” said Veenstra.
At the conclusion of the discussion, it was evident that much more research and thought must go into the urban service boundary.
There are a lot of concerns and questions with the plan and how it is set up to date. The committee will be taking into consideration these concerns, and adjust its plan accordingly.
The urban service boundary will be discussed further at additional board meetings.
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