Bath and DeWitt experiencing continued growth

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Much like a flower needs water and sunlight to grow, a city needs certain things to flourish as well. Developing neighborhoods, thriving businesses, and exceptional school districts help the communities of Bath and DeWitt to grow.

Both these townships are in periods of growth and development according to their planning and building commissions. Bath’s Planning Director and Zoning Administrator Brian Shorkey said from a project perspective it’s been a slow year, but there are big plans for the township.

Building new houses and businesses

There’s been an uptick in housing developments including apartments, duplexes and senior housing. But for Shorkey, the excitement is in the possibility of commercial development, particularly on a plot of land near the interchange that he thinks will open the area up.

“We have a potential project for a 60,000-square-feet warehouse facility,” Shorkey said. “Once a public road gets back there we’re looking at the possibility of restaurants and gas stations.”

The prospective lot is also across from an apartment complex, as well as applicants for 12 more buildings. Shorkey wants people to know the Bath Downtown Development Authority (DDA) wants to fill this area with new businesses. He said if people want to build something creative in this spot the DDA wants to give them the means to do it.

“They better get moving because this project is moving fast,” Shorkey said.

This trend isn’t unique to Bath. According to the most recent census estimate, DeWitt is home to just under 5,000 people, but the small town has experienced growth in terms of education, housing, downtown development and the economy. 

Growing and improving the school districts

DeWitt Public Schools consist of six buildings that have students ranging from early childhood to high schoolers. The number of students enrolled in these schools is just over 3,100 and has been rising since 2014. Superintendent Dr. John Deiter said that its school system continues to experience strength in numbers.

“We are one of the rare districts experiencing growth,” Deiter said. “But we expect it to start leveling off a bit.”

This graph shows the student count trend at DeWitt Public Schools since 2008. Information provided by DeWitt Public Schools. Graphic by Bryanna Idzior.

City Administrator Daniel Coss said he has noticed the influx of families with young kids in the city. 

“One of the biggest factors and why we’re seeing the demographic switch to younger families is because of the school district,” Coss said. “We have a strong school system with great facilities.”

Deiter also said that the strong number of elementary school students shows that families are choosing to begin their children’s education at DeWitt Public Schools, and they likely are moving to the city to do so.

“Our kindergarten, first and second grades have healthier numbers,” Deiter said. “We are the largest school district in Clinton County, we used to be behind St. Johns.”

DeWitt’s community development director, Brett Wittenberg, confirmed the trend of young families. He said there are a lot of first-time buyers for homes that are young college graduates. He then explained the importance of the district to DeWitt’s growth.

“The school district is a big attraction,” Wittenberg said. “We tend to see more interest in the land that’s within the DeWitt School District.” 

Experiencing an influx of houses in neighborhoods 

Neighborhoods and the number of houses have been increasing in the city of DeWitt. Coss said that from 2010 to 2015 there was more than a 10% increase in the number of households in the city. 

“We add about 20-25 single-family homes every year,” Coss said. “By the end of this year we’ve probably added another 100 plus houses.”

He also said there is a 22% home turnover for single-family homes.

“In the nine years I’ve been here, just even in my neighborhood I’ve seen nearly all the houses turnover,” he said. “We went from my kids being the only kids in the neighborhood to about 50% of houses having kids. And that’s just in the little two blocks I see on a daily basis.” 

Wildflower Meadows is a community of duplex condos and single-family homes that are adjacent to DeWitt schools. DeWitt Mayor Sue Leeming said that the community is finishing up being built. 

“We only have a little more to be built,” Leeming said. “People like living here. Houses sell like hot cakes.”

Another community that is in the works is The Woodlands of DeWitt, a senior community with independent and assisted living. The Woodlands will offer a new movie theater to residents, along with a pool that includes a conveyor belt in the water to assist the elderly with exercise.

Witnessing a rise in population

In Bath and DeWitt, both communities are expected to increase in population in the coming census. This information is important for the planned developments in the area.

“That’s how the township gets a lot of federal funding, and grants are tied to our population,” Wittenberg said. “So that’s always an opportunity to help maintain quality of life for our residents.”

This change is also important in Bath due to the public library, which, before 2018, did not exist. Previously, Bath residents had to go to the DeWitt library which was less accessible for people, particularly students.

As the population increases the Bath Public Library must move to a larger space and increase its stock. This is because they will be rated as a different class of library and need to meet state standards.

Introducing new public facilities 

As part of its own additions, DeWitt is welcoming a brand new city hall. The city hall will include a large community room that seats 200 people. Residents can rent the room out for events, and the city will hold community events such as cooking classes for children. Leeming said the city is in a comfortable place to be able to afford a new and improved city hall.

“We are comfortable with funds,” she said. “We’re doing this without raising taxes or losing services.” 

The city hall will also be an improvement for police officers. It will include garages for police cars, an interrogation room with bullet-proof glass and more storage for confidential documents.

Some other additions are being considered in the city. Leeming said the corner of DeWitt Bridge and Herbison Road could be the site of a new library. Also, the city is looking to put another parking lot in on the south side of town. Something that has been frequently talked about is the vacant lot downtown that used to be a gas station. The mayor emphasized the care that is being put into choosing what will occupy the spot. 

“We want to make sure that a successful business goes there,” Leeming said. “We don’t want it to be a rotating door.”

Shorkey said they have a similar thought process around the commercial development area in Bath.

“I think there’s potential here,” Shorkey said. “But we’re only gonna get one shot at doing this really nice.”

Furthering development of the downtown area

Leeming said that one of her main focuses is growing the downtown area. She wants to keep the foot traffic downtown. New businesses have opened downtown in the last few years including the Looking Glass Brewery, Reputation Beverage Co. and Bikeworks. 

“We don’t want any more stores and office buildings except in the downtown,” Leeming said. “We want to grow the downtown to where people want to be and have services people need.”

This is echoed by the state representative for Michigan’s 93rd district, Graham Filler. 

“It was always don’t put a business in the downtown, it’s a bedroom community,” Filler said. “They’ve started to see when you put a restaurant downtown people go to it.”

The growing downtown and the walkable feel of the community adds to the appeal of DeWitt. With growing neighborhoods and a growing downtown, Leeming said she feels confident in the continued development of the city. 

“They like the feel of downtown and wanted the foot traffic,” she said. “I think DeWitt is a great place to live. We have a positive future ahead of us.”

Filler attributes this in part to the growing cooperation between Clinton County and the Lansing area. He said this wasn’t as common of a mindset in the past.

“When Lansing and East Lansing do well, the district does well,” Filler said.

This audio story is a discussion of the growth in Bath and DeWitt. Speaking on behalf of DeWitt is Community Development Director Brett Wittenberg, and for Bath it’s Planning Director and Zoning Administrator Brian Shorkey.

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