Schoolcraft seeks to fill key volunteer positions

By Rob Peterson

Due to a shortage of volunteers, the village Council discussed combining the Planning Commission and the Downtown Development Authority.

The Planning Commission is charged with recommending zoning ordinance changes to the Council regarding what property owners may do with their property. They determine what uses are allowed in which part of town and review site plans for proposed buildings.

The Planning Commission also plays a key role in developing the community’s master plan.

The Downtown Development Authority is responsible for increasing investment in the downtown area. A DDA typically has its own budget that increases as property values increase, and it may spend the money on events, promotions and business development.

Members of both groups are appointed by the village president. Most but not all of the volunteers are required to be village residents.

Currently, the village is required to have five members of the Planning Commission, but has just four. The DDA is required to have eight members, but it also has just four members.

State law allows a community of fewer than 5,000 residents to combine the Planning Commission and the DDA, as Vicksburg has. Doing so would reduce the total number of required volunteers from 13 to nine, reducing the shortfall of volunteers.

The council asked village Manager Cheri Lutz to review combining the two groups as a potential solution to the lack of volunteers.

While combining the two groups would allow the village to operate with fewer volunteers, it was not seen as a viable option by staff or the council.

“The Planning Commission and the DDA are two different groups with different perspectives,” said President Keith Gunnett. “The DDA is a group of businesspeople talking about how to grow our downtown, and the Planning Commission is people making rules.”

There was also a concern about having “a small group of people leading the town,” added Gunnett. “We really need more people involved.”

The council decided to keep the Planning Commission and the DDA separate, with a 5-member Planning Commission and an 8-member DDA. It is actively recruiting new members for both groups.

Correction: The May issue of the South County News misidentified the new Schoolcraft police chief. His correct name is Scott Smith.

Oswalt Park ribbon cutting to be held June 2

A closeup look at Oswalt Park.

The community is invited to the ribbon cutting at Oswalt Park on Thursday, June 2 at 4:30 p.m. This event will celebrate the completion of the redesigned community park, made possible with the help of the Michigan Economic Development Company, Patronicity, donors, and community support.

This family event is a celebration including food trucks, a community paint-by-number event and musical entertainment. All are welcome and encouraged to attend.

Veteran memorial at Historic Village in the works

Oswalt Park will have a ribbon cutting ceremony on June 2.

By Jef Rietsma

Vicksburg municipal officials are in the early stages of planning a high-profile veterans’ memorial.

Village Manager Jim Mallery broached the subject during the board’s May 16 meeting. He said a location in Vicksburg’s Historic Village has been identified following collaboration between two local bodies.

Mallery said Alex Lee, Vicksburg director of public engagement, has played an integral role in the proposed memorial. Mallery also noted the concept has required a close working relationship between the village’s Historical Society and its Parks and Recreation Committee. Planning also involves Kalamazoo-based architecture firm Eckert Wordell and Vicksburg’s Frederick Construction.

Mallery shared good news regarding the involvement of the two companies.

“Part of (Eckert Wordell’s) proposed services is that they are donating half of their investment to this project, and Frederick Construction is donating 100 percent of theirs, to provide the necessary design services to assist the village with what this park would look like,” Mallery said. “I think it’s worth pointing out that was never asked for or suggested.”

Mallery said the project is on an ambitious timeline and the goal is to have the memorial done by the first week of November. He added the village will ambitiously explore grants and use fundraisers to help cover costs. He did not offer a proposed expense of the memorial.

Council members Gail Reisterer and Julie Merrill indicated they would prefer a design that is less contemporary and more in line with the historical theme of the memorial’s surroundings.

“If we’re going to put this in the Historic Village, then it should look historic and not modern … and that’s the way I feel about the village itself, too,” Reisterer said.

Mallery said the design is in its preliminary stage and, in his opinion, already reflects a historical aspect. He said Eckert Wordell will lend its expertise to the task and craft a design for council approval.

Council member Rick Holmes said he is glad to finally see plans moving forward on a worthy veterans’ memorial.

“The current veterans’ park, I’ve displayed my discouragement of ever calling that piece of dirt a veterans’ park, so I’m all for this monument (and) finding a more suitable location,” Holmes said, referencing Veterans’ Park, on the north side of Prairie Street, west of the railroad crossing.

Holmes also inquired about whether local VFWs and other veteran organizations have been made aware of the project. He said they may wish to consider financially helping out with the expense.
Mallery responded.

“There will be (discussion) … we felt the next stage was to get conceptual designs and also the estimated cost to see if it’s realistic to pull off by this November,” he said. “So, that’s where we’re at.”

Village President Tim Frisbie said a veterans’ memorial at the Historic Village allows for ample parking, and it has open space and a pavilion for coverage from the elements.

He emphasized that the Historical Society fully supports the idea of placing the memorial in the Historic Village.

In the end, the council authorized Mallery to enter into an agreement with Eckert Wordell and Frederick Construction to proceed with the conceptual phase of the memorial.

In other news, Mallery said the balance of downtown work was to be completed by May 27. Also, a ceremonial ribbon cutting to commemorate the full opening of downtown Vicksburg is scheduled to take place June 2 at the redeveloped Oswalt Park.