Category Archives: Government

Schoolcraft is Finishing a Long-Term Plan for the Village

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Representatives of Wightman & Associates have been the consultants on the Schoolcraft Visions project and the Master Plan. They brought the information to residents during the August Back to School event at the football field. Village council members Sy Spears on the left with the baseball cap and Russell Barnes on the right in street clothes, were there to help.

By Linda Lane

Schoolcraft’s Village Council, Downtown Development Authority and Planning Commission in a mid-March joint meeting reviewed a draft of a Parks and Recreation Plan, a conceptual plan for the US-131 corridor and a Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

Two consultants from Wightman & Associates, Jorden Parker and Ben Baker, were in attendance to review the plans.

The Village’s 2018 Master Plan is currently under public review. Changes cannot be made to it until the public has been had time to give feedback. With an overall 20-year plan, the Village is required to update the Master Plan every five years to allow for necessary changes.

The three primary goals of the Parks and Recreation Plan include development of an accessible trail linking Portage on the north and Three Rivers to the south and perhaps east to Vicksburg, partnering with Schoolcraft Community Schools to acquire school property for the trail and assessment of the Birch Park facility to make improvements to turn it into a destination park. The recreation plan will outline improvements on a 1-5-year action timeline, with cost estimates for the improvements.

Possible changes that were discussed for the recreation plan included installing a rest room facility in Birch Park and possibly a splash pad, developing a new park, and establishing a non-motorized trail for running, walking and biking. While trails are expensive to develop, a series of possible funding sources were discussed, including the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, federal matching fund grants, trust fund grants, and other resources. It was noted that linking trails together greatly increases the possibilities of funding a new trail system. Maintenance and upkeep is typically left to the municipality developing the improvements and a plan needs to be in place for grants. The Village Council is seeking public comments and will compile results from a public survey of residents.

“It’s important to show the community what we can financially afford to do in improvements and changes,” President Keith Gunnett said. “We don’t want to develop a plan that doesn’t have funding to implement it.”

Changes to the US 131 corridor plan included possibly adding a median for “traffic calming”, improving crosswalks, and adding plantings on Eliza to slow vehicles. There was some discussion regarding developing a “commercial district” along Cass Street, allowing turn lanes left and right onto Cass, and adding a “downtown gateway” which welcomes visitors to Schoolcraft and provides a pedestrian-friendly environment. The concept would provide dual frontage to the commercial district on the Hayward Street side, allowing shared parking and possibly outdoor dining.

“I think it’s important to set some goals that we can accomplish quickly, and continue working on the others that cost more money,” said Trustee Mike Rochholtz.

“The elephant in the room is the sewer issue,” said one resident who asked to not be quoted. With 48 percent of village residents retired, the funding for building a new sewer system has long been a discussion topic. It was noted that the village is unable to attract restaurants or any craft breweries without installing a sewer system. Wes Schmitt, planning commission member, noted there is discussion of South County area governmental leaders working with state and federal representatives to show how significant grant funding can boost and attract businesses, accomplish environmental goals, and overall be a blessing for the entire area.

“If a new sewer system is installed and the roads are ripped up, it offers a great opportunity to implement several goals at the same time, like a walking or bike path along the roadway,” suggested Jorden Parker. “If you have a plan in place, it’s possible to incorporate several goals at the same time.”

The Schoolcraft Village Council includes the president, Gunnett, and trustees Russell Barnes, Todd Carlin, Kathy Mastenbrook, Rochholz, John Stodola and Sy Spears.

The Planning Commission includes Chairperson Mae Pfost, Vice-Chairperson Sue Hendriksma, Secretary Josh Rozeboom, and members Jennifer Doorn, Kirk Bergland, Schmitt and Gunnett.

Schoolcraft Master Plan Set for Public Input

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Representatives of Wightman & Associates help the Schoolcraft Planning Commission work through their goals and objections for the future Master Plan for the village. They are from left: Natalie Dean, Jorden Parker and Ben Baker who works primarily with the parks and recreation portion of the plan.

By Sue Moore

Setting Schoolcraft’s goals, objectives and strategies five years into the future demands a crystal ball at best. The village’s Planning Commission took the task to heart at its February meeting, recommending a plan for consideration by the village Council in time for its own February session.

The Council followed with a plan to seek public comments through April and possible adoption in May.

It was easy to agree on goal number one: Eliminate the center turn lane on U.S. 131 through downtown and replace it with a landscaped median within a year. “This could be a more attainable first goal than some of the others that follow,” Jorden Parker, the consultant from Wightman Associates, explained. He and Natalie Dean from Wightman helped to draft the plan that would be suitable for submission to the state of Michigan as required every five years.

The change would require approval from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). Goal number five dovetailed with the median changes. It stipulates that the village work with MDOT to improve safety along the corridor with pedestrian crossing lights and reducing vehicle turning movements on the street. “This is a safety issue that is critical to our future; why not put it as goal number two?” asked Trustee Sue Hendriksma. Discussion followed: whether to accomplish those changes all at once or work with MDOT on a step-by-step basis.

Goal number two: Provide sewers for all village residents and business owners within five years. This was modified at the request of Trustee Wes Schmitt. “We should avoid controversy right off the top of this plan, unless we can get 90 percent state and federal funding for sewers. I’m not willing to back-door this to our citizens. I would hope that people don’t overreact; the funding is the big requirement,” Schmitt said.

Mae Pfost, newly appointed chair of the Planning Commission, said the village needs to get in line right away with a new infrastructure plan just presented by the Trump administration. “Our 100-year-old water pipes could be replaced. There will be money there because the state is looking for Great Lakes funding too.”

Goal number three: Work with the schools in the next three years to acquire ownership of the existing sports fields east of the railroad and market the site to single family developers. This requires a funding strategy to acquire land and develop a partnership with the school to market the land.

Goal number four: Develop an accessible trail along the north-south rail line through Schoolcraft to Portage in the next three years, then continue the trail from Schoolcraft to Three Rivers. It was agreed that this is a priority but should move down in the ranking because of the long time needed to see success. It placed high on preferences at public meetings held in 2017.

Goal number six: Create a mixed-use development zone and rezone an area to accommodate a mix of commercial development and townhouses or duplex units.

The document lays out the next six goals which largely speak to how zoning changes could work to achieve the goals. Parker told the planning commission members that they can’t do all of this themselves. “They should find the champion for each goal and let that person take the reins.”

A parks and recreation plan, also discussed, will be recommended to the Village Council on a different timeline.

A week after the planning commission’s meeting, the Council approved seeking public comment on the Master Plan until April 30. It scheduled a May 14 public hearing with a goal of final adoption at the May 21 council meeting.

Schoolcraft Township Board Hears Speeding Complaint

By Sue Moore

Speeding on Portage Road between W and XY avenues was brought to the attention of the Schoolcraft Township board at its February meeting. The board authorized a resolution asking the Kalamazoo County Road Commission to look into the matter by asking the Michigan State Police police for a study of speed limits and enforcement.

“It is hard to get in and out of our driveway,” said a homeowner who lives at 15380 S. Barton Lake Drive, which opens onto Portage Road. “There is no signage to instruct drivers that this is a 55 mile per hour road, which is a problem.”

The state police will need to do a traffic study to see of any further speed limit should be imposed, according to Don Ulsh, township supervisor.

The board agreed to budget $145,000 toward local road improvements. Treasurer Teresa Scott was praised by the board for her work in preparing the budget, with Ulsh remarking that she’s tight with any of the expense items. “We appreciate her being so conservative as she keeps the rest of us in check,” he remarked.

Ryan LaPorte was enthusiastic about the potential for Swan Park, saying he is working on a partnership with the Schoolcraft Rocket Football board to use the north side of the property for football and perhaps a lacrosse organization. “We are getting good usage because of the concession stand, which takes our offering to the next level,” he said.

A long-standing disagreement between land owners on Kimble Lake was debated. The board ultimately decided it would no longer tolerate just writing tickets to neighbors who couldn’t settle their own disagreements. The code enforcement officer for the township has attempted to mediate the complaints. The many violations of zoning ordinances have not been agreed upon so the only recourse seemed to be to send the dispute to Kalamazoo County Circuit Court to settle the matter, Ulsh told property owners.

Krum Hallam Building on W. Prairie St. to be Renovated

oswalts 1By Sue Moore

Local development projects dominated the agenda at the Vicksburg Village Council meeting in late February. Two projects that will have a large impact on the community were presented and given kudos from the audience and the council members.

Paper City representative Jackie Koney outlined the next steps in turning the abandoned paper mill into a viable entity. Following her exciting and futuristic presentation for development, Kelly and Dan Oswalt gave an overview of their ideas for renovating the former Krum Hallam Chevrolet dealership at 343 W. Prairie at a cost of more than $1 million. They are the owners of Oswalt Electric with offices they renovated in 2013 a block away from this new project.

Describing it as the “Gateway” to the village on the west side, they plan to completely renovate the 7,500-square foot building and lease space to at least four different companies. “The building is in dire need of repair. We want to welcome people here instead of their just driving by,” said Dan Oswalt. To make this happen successfully, they needed the village to sign off on a commercial rehabilitation abatement request. The Council did so willingly.

It would be difficult to justify a project of this kind without the abatement incentive tools, their attorney, Jared Belka, explained. “This is not a poster child project,” Belka said. “To make the numbers make sense they need the village’s help to reduce the taxes over a 10-year period of time.” This would amount to somewhere between $4,000 to $8,000 a year, village Manager Jim Mallery told trustees.

Although the mill project has been in front of the Council in the past, Koney wanted to update them on the progress of the development because not much of it can be seen from the road. “Our biggest effort over the next two years will be the stabilization of the building itself.” She showed a slide of all the pieces of brickwork that need to be patched or replaced, saying that a crew of 15 to 30 brick masons would be working on the building and living nearby.

She set out a timeline for the next big steps, with the expectation that if funding and zoning approvals go as planned, the first evidence of occupancy would take place in early 2020. In the meantime, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has approved a $1.35 million grant and loan package for environmental assessments and due care activities, including site clean-up on the property. Paper City is working on a proposal to the Kalamazoo County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation worth $9 million to the project. Many of the actions on the mill property depend upon zoning changes that the village Planning Commission and the Council will need to consider in the upcoming months. Koney cited a study by Tracy Cross Associates which predicted that when completed, the mill project would double or triple residential growth in Vicksburg and the downtown will prosper as a result.

“The ball is in Paper City’s hands to get the information available on the Planned Unit Development,” Mallery exclaimed. “We are at a tipping point with these multiple developments and investments in Vicksburg. It corresponds with our plans for infrastructure upgrades whether the developers proceed with their projects or not. The sewer system has not been improved since 1977. We are seeking federal government financing help and will be coming to the Council with some recommendations very soon.”

In other business, Mallery read an email from the new owner of MLC, Paul VanElden, about specialized equipment the company was trying to purchase to abate odors emanating from its building in the Leja Industrial Park. The deal fell through. But the firm hopes to find other equipment that will minimize the odor to satisfy the neighbors’ complaints,. It’s agreed not to process carrots, which seemed to be causing the most odor problems.

Vicksburg Village Council Honors Ted Vliek

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Ted Vliek.

By Sue Moore

Ted Vliek, a long-time Portage resident but a Vicksburg aficionado, was honored by the Village Council at its January meeting. “He has done so many great things to help the village, it seemed a no-brainer to recognize him for his contributions,” Village Manager Jim Mallery told an audience including County Treasurer Mary County Balkema, State Sen. Margaret O’Brien and State Rep. Dave Maturen.

Vliek was the co-chair of the Vision Campaign with Kristina Powers Aubry, helping to raise money for the Trailhead construction and Liberty Lane East. It is a two-year long effort with completion of the trail going north scheduled for 2019.

The Vicksburg Historical Society was also a big beneficiary of his involvement. “Ted has always been interested in the history of this area, not just Portage,” said Warren Lawrence, who recruited him to take a seat on the board of directors in 2011. He served as president for two years, all the while raising its image in the community with many new activities, especially the building of the General Store and Doris Lee Sweet Shop in the Historic Village.

Vliek was the guiding light behind the Historical Society’s plaque committee that has installed bronze plaques throughout the village recognizing historically significant buildings.

When the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center was looking for a new location, he led the committee that evaluated and chose its new location at 101 E. Prairie Street in 2017.

His adoption by the Village of Vicksburg came to fruition with this recognition, according to Powers Aubry, who spoke on behalf of the many people he has benefited.

Vicksburg Village Council Listens to Odor Complaints

By Sue Moore

Complaints from citizens living near the Leja Industrial Park over odors emanating from the MLC building were heard by the Vicksburg Village Council at its mid-January meeting.

Richard Underwood, 212 4th Street, was pleased to know that the noise from the processing plant had been cut in half with a new stack installed recently. But there is still smoke and a smell coming from the building. It bothered him, he said, adding his research showed that there was cyanide being emitted. “Perhaps this is another Flint on our hands. You’ve made the wrong person mad. It isn’t pleasant.”

Fourth Street resident Denise Leitch spoke about the apples the plant was processing. “It means I can’t go outside in the summer. I want to know what is in the smoke. I think it’s cyanide coming from the apple seeds. Then we find out they can purchase land and build more buildings in the park.”

Trustee Colin Bailey answered that the purchase agreement for expansion has expired and that a buyer from Minnesota now has controlling interest in the plant. Village Manager Jim Mallery said that the state environmental inspectors inspected the property in the fall. “They said they would contact the village if there were any issues and we haven’t heard anything. With the noise issue the company has been responsive even though the state said the noise was within the accepted decibel level.”

Trustee Ron Smith agreed it was a nuisance. “The current ordinance doesn’t fit this situation. We are looking at different options.”

Earlier in the meeting, Jeff Rood from Siegfried Crandell’s audit department was complimentary to the village for the professionalism he found in completing this year’s audit. “The sales tax issue has been corrected. The village is in better shape financially than it has been in many years.” He especially noted the fund balance increased from $280,598 to $482,368. This increase had been requested by Trustee James Earl several months ago as a way to build the village’s “rainy day” fund to at least 20 percent of the general fund.

A budget item that Mallery pointed out was the need to plan ahead for a new municipal building. The current one was built in the early 50s as a doctor’s office and needs considerable work to make it function as a village hall. The better option, he said, is to build a new facility. He proposed putting $125,000 into a certificate of deposit and keep setting aside enough each year to eventually be able to afford a 3,000-square foot building costing an estimated $1.2 million.

Another large expense that the village needs to plan for is an estimated $10 million in water and sewer improvements. Mallery promised to bring recommendations to future council meetings.

Schoolcraft Village Council Declines to Reappoint Tim Brown to the Planning Commission

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Tim Brown, former chair of the Schoolcraft Planning Commission.

By Sue Moore

Tim Brown, a 26-year veteran of the Schoolcraft Planning Commission, its chair for the last 22 years and a descendant of a venerable Village founding father, E. Laken Brown, was passed over for reappointment by the Village Council at its last meeting in December.

Brown, who has made those years on the planning commission his community service project, said he didn’t understand the decision and was “blindsided” by it.

“Nobody talked to me in advance, but it seems that some people in the community took offense to my standing of not making exceptions to the zoning ordinances and the deadlines that are entailed in it,” Brown said.

“In the future, the village will need to offer more training to understand more clearly what the job is of the members of the Planning Commission and even the Village Council. I am concerned about the direction of the visioning sessions that have taken place over the past year, especially the guidance of the consultants,” he implied. “They are very creative but some solutions they offered don’t make sense. Now we are in the process of rewriting the master plan and the village ordinances, so I’m retiring from the effort.”

During his 22 years as chair of the planning commission, Brown believes the board has done a good job in protecting the residential neighborhoods while encouraging business growth and development. “It’s always been a challenge and we need to broaden and encourage new kinds of businesses to the downtown. We should pull together business people to start to get this going. They just aren’t scared [enough] yet but this needs to be solved,” Brown said.

Brown was born in Schoolcraft but his family moved to Indiana after he was in first grade. He graduated from Indiana University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science, expecting to teach in college. He and his wife, Dana, decided to take a look at the possibilities in the Kalamazoo area so he could return to his home town. She found a job right away as the first nurse hired into the Bronson Hospital neonatal unit that was being formed at that time. Brown sort of fell into real estate and has been with Re-Max for many years.

“It has been a pleasure working with Tim and the Planning Commission issues over the last 14 years that I’ve been village manager,” Cheri Lutz said. “He has been a great asset to the commission during the years, especially with the rewriting of the village ordinances in 1991.”

Mike Rochholz, a member of the Village Council, complimented Brown on his years of service and his wealth of knowledge.