By Sue Moore
“This is a wonderful little town,” Schoolcraft village resident Keith Gunnett told the audience at a public session to discuss the future of the village. “We have lots of tradition. The crime rate is low. Our biggest problem is U.S. 131! How do you slow the one million cars a year that drive through? It would be an even greater little town if they would slow down.”
The possibility of creating an identity for the village drew 12 village residents to the meeting, along with three village council members. They were told that identity is a big thing these days in creating a place where people want to live and work.
Presenters from Wightman & Associates, Bill La Ditka and Alan Smaka, advised the village Council to start talking to the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to set up a dialog. It might take years but the Department’s views are changing ever so slightly about how highways affect small towns.
Smaka told the group residents need to understand how MDOT works. The emphasis is on capacity, mostly coming from the federal government. Dowagiac was able to reroute their state highway to the outside of town. “Not every road needs to be a highway, it could be a street. The idea is that the local community should have more control. It’s a shift in thinking. You need to get in their ear and be a squeaky wheel. They plan five to 10 years out. You need a comprehensive plan to get their attention. You have a good insider at MDOT with your former village manager, who works there now,” the group was told.
“We are a strip community,” Margaret Beck said. “The residential butts right up to the highway. We need a place in the center for people to come to events.”
LaDitka asked the residents why they live in Schoolcraft. The answers ranged from “close to Kalamazoo,” to good schools, small town, unique and sentimentality for what Schoolcraft used to be 25 years ago and hasn’t changed. Ashley Willis commented that there was no clarity in what people want for the future. She asked who the members of the DDA were and why they weren’t at the meeting.
Sue Hendricksen noted that there is a strong silent contingent in the community who want a better place to live. “We can’t keep having the current contentions.”
Carl Tackett, a long-time village council member, noted that the village couldn’t expand as it is bounded on all sides by the township. La Ditka countered that it was important to start communicating with all the governmental units.
“Involve them, partner with them, get together collectively to go forward with a vision. It take good communication. Sometimes it takes a champion to get things rolling. Without vision you just have bits and pieces. You need to take the long view,” Smaka told the audience.