Historic district application authorized in Vicksburg

By Jef Rietsma

A historic district designation for much of the village’s center is being pursued by members of the Vicksburg Village Council.

The seven-member panel this month authorized drafting a letter of support for Vicksburg’s designation as a National Historic District.

Todd Walsh of the Michigan Historic Preservation Office said the National Register of Historic places is a federal list of the nation’s places worthy of preservation. “It’s a planning tool for state, local and federal governments; it’s a tool for promoting places and communities in our shared history; it’s a tool for economic and community development; and it’s a means of celebrating local and state history,” Walsh said. “The process for listing of a property on the National Register of Historic Places goes through a number of steps and this process can take anywhere from several months to a couple of years.”

The task involves a visual survey, followed by data collection and review by Walsh’s office. The next step takes the application before the Michigan Historic Preservation Review Board in January. Ultimately, Walsh said, the application goes to the National Parks Service.

The biggest benefit, he said, is the economic-development incentives, which include tax-credit programs. In addition, he said, it’s “an honorific program and it celebrates the history of the properties and the significance of the properties.”

Meanwhile, Cheri Szcodronski, a historical consultant with Firefly Preservation Consulting, said the village would likely qualify under a criterion that the area “demonstrates broad patterns of history,” for community planning and commerce, and another criterion relating to “architectural design or construction” for its broad range of building architecture.

She shared several examples of businesses and residences featuring unique but specific architecture styles. Council members said they had no idea the village contained such a diverse range of architecture.

In other action in December, council members agreed to establish support for a commercial rehabilitation district for properties at 101 and 103 E. Prairie St. Vicksburg is the only community in Kalamazoo County to exercise the option of establishing such a district, according to Village Manager Jim Mallery. The establishment of a commercial rehab district is being pursued by owner Paper City.

Also in December, the council voted unanimously to proceed with the improvement of Oswalt Park. The agreement with Frederick Construction comes at a cost of $225,000, with an additional contingency of $25,000 to cover overruns.

Mallery said money to support the undertaking is not from the village’s general fund. Instead, proceeds were donated by citizens and grants from the Vicksburg Foundation and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

He said the improvements are expected to be completed by early June. Mallery also noted Oswalt Electric is donating the cost of labor toward the project.

In a separate matter, Mallery said downtown traffic signals are expected to be installed by late January.

Schoolcraft village hears infrastructure estimates

By Rob Peterson

The Schoolcraft Village Council invited Tom Wheaton of Prein & Newhoff, the village’s engineering consultants, to talk about infrastructure at the December meeting.

Its primary concern: the 360 water service lines that contain lead, which must be replaced by 2040 according to a state mandate. Wheaton estimates that the cost of this project will be $2.5-3 million.

If the village were to install a sewer system, it would add $10-12 million to the price tag.

“If you’re doing lead service line replacement, you’ll be tearing up the roads,” the engineer said, suggesting that there would be value in coordinating the projects.

There will likely be funds for drinking water and sewer systems in the recently passed federal infrastructure bill, Wheaton added. He said that the funds will primarily come in the form of low-interest, long-term loans.

In other action, the village council again covered the cost of utilities for Eagle’s Nest, which houses the Schoolcraft Friday Pack and the Food Pantry. Expected utility costs are $2,040 for the 2022 calendar year. The council invited it to return for more funding if energy costs exceed that amount.

Schoolcraft Village became the latest municipality to reject approval of the South County Fire Authority budget.

Village manager Cheri Lutz indicated that she has not received a response from the SCFA finance director on questions posed by the village council. “I’m not going to vote for approval of the (fire authority) budget without answers to our questions, and I’m disappointed in their lack of response,” said council member Kathy Mastenbrook.

In a surprise announcement, Village Manager Cheri Lutz said Police Chief Scott Boling submitted his resignation after a year of heading up the police department. She indicated that the village is currently seeking a replacement.

Construction update for December

The one-way section of South Main Street will soon be open for traffic.

By Jef Rietsma

Vicksburg’ downtown construction project is about 80 percent completed, Village Manager Jim Mallery estimated, with crews nearer to ending their work until spring. The balance of the work, mainly on Washington from Michigan to a sewage lift station and storm water outflow opposite Clark Park plus a water line on adjacent Mill Street, will be completed in 2022.

Mallery was virtually sure that the one-way block of South Main Street from Prairie to Washington and Washington from Main to Michigan would be open to traffic as the South County News is distributed to readers.

Mallery offered updates on project components. Asphalt plants are now closed, so the base layer of asphalt on Washington Street will remain as is until the project resumes, he said. “It’s just a base layer but that’s far better than leaving it gravel,” Mallery said. “I think it’s key to note that curbs are in on Washington, and we poured the two approach aprons into the large parking lot behind the Distant Whistle and hardware store.”

Mallery said one important task centers on signage in the heart of downtown. He said all appropriate signage will be up on Main Street between Prairie Street and Washington Street to indicate it is a southbound, one-way block. “Do Not Enter” signs facing northbound traffic on Main at Washington were erected last week. That intersection is now a four-way stop and the switch to one-way traffic was due to start Dec. 6.

He also mentioned a priority that may or may not get done before spring. “It’s our goal to have, at minimum, temporary striping for parking and specifically the handicapped parking spots on Washington,” Mallery said. “The contractor feels it can be done in December after a close look at the weather. Hopefully it all gets striped but it’s weather-dependent. At minimum, we should have temporary tape put down.”

Mallery said sidewalks have been power-washed and a street sweeper will make its rounds at some point this month so they are clean and tidy for the winter.

He provided an update on electrical work yet to be conducted downtown. “Starting the week of Dec. 6, the wiring will begin to be run for all the street lights,” he said. “As a side note, we have a contingency plan for (the Dec. 11) Christmas in the Village parade and events… we’re going to have five separate light banks so they’ll light up the intersections and light up the mid-blocks because I don’t think all of those street lights will be up, if any.”

Traffic signals, meanwhile, won’t be in place until January due to a supply-chain interruption, Mallery added.

He said the village is in a much better shape now than it was six months ago. He noted a few outstanding matters to be addressed in 2022.

“We still have some sewer/water and storm work between Michigan and the lift station on Washington Street,” he said “And in the area of Mill Street between Prairie and Washington, we’re going to hit that with a new water main and get all those people on an appropriate water supply.”

Also, sidewalks on Washington between Main and Michigan will get done, permanent striping will get put down and permanent crosswalks will be installed. The crosswalks will use the same tinted concrete as that used on Main Street.

Mallery said he is confident he will never see a construction project of this magnitude in Vicksburg in his lifetime.

Vicksburg to seek 10 acres for industrial use

By Jef Rietsma

The Vicksburg Village Council has approved pursuing a property purchase to expand the community’s industrial space.

At an early-November meeting, the council returned from a 38-minute closed session and voted to pursue purchase of a 10-acre parcel connected to a property already owned by the village. The letter of intent to purchase shows the price is $77,000. Village Manager Jim Mallery said the location is an area behind Vicksburg Auto Body, which is at 522 Spruce Street in the northeast quadrant of the village.

“It is staff’s belief that the data will show (the prospective land acquisition) provides an incredible opportunity for this village, both in growth and to align with our mission, to have the least impact – whether it be on taxes or utilities – to our residents,” Mallery said.

He said the prospective land purchase is consistent with the village’s master plan. Mallery said the opportunity is a big deal, explaining he fields calls from potential developers on a monthly basis, which confirms there is consistent interest in Vicksburg from the outside.

The council was expected to close the deal at its Dec. 6 meeting.

Mallery said the purchase would give the village the luxury of an additional industrial park.

“We’ll start to work different ideas. There’s nothing that’s going to happen in the next month or six months that I’m aware of, but for the price that was offered … I think it’s an incredible investment opportunity for the village,” Mallery said, noting the proposed purchase would be supported from the village’s general fund. “When you take everything into account, the direction of the village and what we’re accomplishing, this is an incredible opportunity that staff fully recommends.”

Mallery said the property will be surveyed to define its boundaries.

Council member Rick Holmes said the property acquisition and likely future development will help ease a financial burden that would otherwise fall on Vicksburg’s residents.

“Folks, we were only able to raise a third of the funds necessary for the critical infrastructure repair,” Holmes said. “So, here’s the reality. We needed to start turning cornfields over and put more houses in them because we need to build the base up in order to spread out the expense of updating the infrastructure, or we need to bring businesses in here.

“Either that or what we do is keep limping along and fill in potholes as we go along,” he added. “There’s got to be a balance here. We all have greater needs, including this community, so that’s why I applaud things like this because what we’re trying to do is … find meaningful ways we can increase our tax base, we can bring business and industry in, and then hopefully by doing that, we’re not changing what makes us special and unique.”

Council members said they understand the value of having industrial-zoned property ready for development. The motion to accept the purchase agreement was approved unanimously.

Schoolcraft village honors Mae Pfost

Mae Pfost receives a resolution from President Keith Gunnett that honors her years of service to Schoolcraft.

By Rob Peterson

The Schoolcraft Village Council presented long-time volunteer Mae Pfost with a resolution thanking her for many years of service to the community, including her work leading the Planning Commission and the Village Council.

The resolution honoring Pfost lists a range of her work locally, from her support of infrastructure upgrades and business development to her service through the United Methodist Church, the Jaycees and Schoolcraft Community Schools.

“She is a good leader; she steps in when work needs to be done” said council President Keith Gunnett. “I’ve really come to like her, even when we’re on opposite sides of an issue.”

In other action, the council renewed its support for local merchants by again implementing the matching gift card program that was started during the 2020 holiday season. Community members can purchase $50 gift cards through the Village. The Village will match those purchases with an additional $50 gift card. To fund the program, the Village is using $1,500 from its business promotion account. Chem Link has provided an additional $1,000.

There are a limited number of certificates per business. As the South County News goes to print, the participating merchants are Craft+Grand, Hardings, Lovell Auto, Dirt Buster Car Wash, Pizza Hut, Biggby, Grand Antique, 131 Auto Care and Heirloom Rose. The cards will go on sale in early December. Check the Village Facebook page for more information.

Most parking citation fines were reduced from $75 to $20, with the amount increasing every seven days that a fine goes unpaid. The primary exceptions to the reduction in fines are parking in a handicap zone or commercial vehicles parked in a residential area. Those two infractions still carry the $75 fine.

The Village was informed that Craft Precision is closing its doors. The business had been granted an Industrial Facilities Exemption, which relieved 50% of its real estate taxes, in 2013. The exemption was set to expire in 2025, and the agreement allowed the Village to request a refund of abated taxes if the business closed before then.

The council was unanimous in its decision to request that the money be repaid. “We have a contract,” said council member John Stodola. “I feel like our hands are tied to abide by it.” Council member Mike Rochholz agreed, adding that other businesses hadn’t received a tax abatement, so it would be unfair to not request the repayment.

The amount due to the Village is expected to be $18,000 plus interest and attorney’s fees. The Village received $81,000 from the State through the American Rescue Plan Act; with another $81,000 coming next year. The funds must be dedicated to projects by 2024 and spent by 2026. The conversation about how to spend the funds will occur in upcoming meetings.

There is a plan coming together for the 2022 July 4th festivities, but they may not include fireworks. The former location is now under construction for new school facilities and won’t be available. The person who has been putting on the fireworks in recent years is retiring, and finding someone who is licensed can cost much more than organizers say they can reasonably raise in sponsorships.