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Planning Commission Hears Draft Master Plan Presentation

Permit Approved for Indoor Golf Simulator Business



Cleaver Staff Writer

HARRISON – New businesses seem to be blooming in the City Harrison, and another one is planned for 215 N. Second St. Attending the April 9 meeting of the Harrison Planning Commission were Laura and Leif Smith who sought a Special Use Permit-Private Recreation Facility to establish The Lynx, offering indoor golf with two golf simulators. It was noted that indoor golf is increasingly popular, and that there is discussion of adding a future axe throwing lane as well. After going over any possible issues, such as adequate parking and snow removal, commissioners voted unanimously to approve the permit and wished the Smiths well with their project.

Andy Saxton summed it up, saying, “Sounds like fun.”

The second item under New Business was Master Plan Draft Review, which included drafts of the 2024 Master Plan, the Existing Land Use Map and Future Land Use Map. Those documents stretched across 46 pages and touched on the area’s history to provide community context. Further Planning context was provided which noted the City’s first master plan had been done in 2001 and replaced in 2017.

The process and proposed changes were delineated by Arthur Mullen, ACIP professional planner with Wade Trim. He explained that the vision detailed in the 2017 plan had not received the outside support needed for it to be successful. Thus, it was time to change, resulting in a whole new document rather than simply an update of the previous plan. He also explained that the final version will be a lot more graphic and include lots of photos.

He said the next step for the Planning Commission would be to recommend the draft to Harrison City Council to send out for review and approval. Mullen emphasized the work being done is really early in the process, and the Planning Commission is being looked to for ideas, input, concepts. He also noted the legally required public engagement steps, including the initial letter which at the start of the process was sent to neighboring communities, all utilities, the bus company, and other entities which have asked to be notified that the Master Plan was being updated.

The next step then is second notification when the Plan is ready for distribution: the Planning Commission would recommend it to Council, and Council would then pass a resolution stating the Plan is ready to be distributed to the agencies for the official adoption and review process. Mullen said that, at that point, Council could pass a resolution stating that Council wants to be the adopting agency.

“If they do not retain that right at this point, then the Planning Commission would be the entity to adopt at the end of the process,” he said. “You would adopt the Plan at the end of the process, and it wouldn’t come back to them.”

Mullen said that option makes sense, as the Planning Commission is the entity that’s in charge of guiding and promoting development in the community, and the plan for the community.

“So, they have the opportunity to kick the can during the process,” he said. “But if they feel the plan is comfortable enough and they’re comfortable with it, then Council would not reserve the right.”

He added that sometimes, if there is something hot in the community or there’s some angst, sometimes the local legislative body retains that right. Mullen said that if the Planning Commission feels comfortable, it would  be appropriate to recommend to Council that the Plan is ready for distribution.

Also noted was the 63-day comment period where the review bodies have time to present comments, and that the county would have time to chime in as well make recommendations to the Planning Commission.

Following that comment period would be a public hearing before the Planning Commission, after which the Plan could be adopted.

Mullen noted that a survey was distributed last summer to gather public ideas and information, the results of which were shared with the Steering Committee as well as the Planning Commission in September/October.

“What we also like to have is to set up some boards in an informal session where people can come and ask questions and really engage with the Planning Commission, with the Steering Committee members to learn about the Plan,” he said. “Because a public hearing’s a very formal process, that’s when the public is supposed to come, provide their input – and your job is to just sit back and listen. It’s not a very dynamic back and forth, and a lot of residents feel a little bit stymied … so it’s good to be able to have that step.”

Mullen suggested one of the next steps would be to think about whether the Plan is ready to have the public engagement process and schedule an open house before the Plan is sent to Council, or alternatively, hold the open house during the 63-day comment period.

“That’s up to you,” Mullen said. “I don’t have any skin in the game.”

He then moved on to the Current Land Use map, described as a point-in-time shot used to aid in figuring out what needs to be done moving forward.

“The key – where the rubber meets the road for your Master Plan – is your Future Land Use map,” Mullen said. “This is the thing that really is the 20-year vision into the futures.”

One primary issue the City charged Mullen with addressing was land use that included development on existing small lots, as well as lack of diverse housing, improved conditions for business investment, along with a vision for the City’s Zoning Ordinance to support new development and investment.

He noted that this plan, unlike typical master plans, focuses on land use and planning issues facing the City that are within the capacity and control of the City, its staff and volunteers.

Other plans and planning efforts and their visions for the future have an effect on the development of the new City of Harrison Master Plan, and those considered here were the 2014 Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, which was done in collaboration with Hayes Township; 2022 Parks and Recreation Master Plan; City of Harrison DDA Development Plan; City of Harrison Zoning Ordinance; and the 2033 Hayes Township Master Plan Update.

Stressed was the importance of the community’s vision for itself stated in clear and simple terms. Mullen said the plan draft presented serves as the roadmap for guiding future land use decisions by the City, its officials and its boards, with the goal of incremental changes guided by the Plan to bring the City closer to its vision outlined for itself during the 20-year term of the plan.

The draft Plan included a description of the ad hoc Steering Committee that as individuals with wide-ranging interests and skills. That committee allows for participation of non-voting summer residents, business and property owners with a vested interest in the City’s future. Specifically, the ad hoc committee included the City Manager and Zoning Administrator, Planning Commission vice-chair, two local business owners including a member of the Harrison Area Economic Development Corp., and a member of the Board of the Budd Lake Association. This advisory group helped with preparation for community engagement and provided feedback and insight throughout the Master Plan’s development.

The draft plan includes changes to various boundaries, which drew questions from the commissioners, particularly if those changes would leave Harrison appearing undesirable to industrial investment.

“We’re definitely not throwing in the towel,” Mullen said. “We’re trying to make sure we’re focusing on – wherever development occurs – where people want it. People want the downtown to be as vibrant as possible, help drive new investment in the community. What we’re trying to do is make sure anything that’s going to be downtown, walkable, unique will focus in the Downtown District.”

He equated that with the need for adequate downtown parking for those businesses’ customers, and the question of how best to provide that – and whether to go from a minimum parking requirement to no requirement, which can lead to a more shopper-friendly experience.

Also touched on was housing affordability, permitted accessory dwelling units.

“I do think the MEDC is looking to give communities like yours money,” Mullen said. “They understand the demographic issue is statewide, not just in your county. The only parts of the state that really are growing are the Grand Rapids area and suburban Detroit [excluding Wayne County]. This is a statewide issue, and I think they’re going to want to help communities invest. Another thing is how do we keep the young people here – it’s not to have towns that have no vitality in them.”

At that point, Mullen made his point by asking the room where their kids are; responses included Switzerland, downstate, out of state. He said what could be hoped for is to make Harrison someplace those kids want to return and raise a family.

Mullen said a way to do that is with walking and bike paths, appropriate sidewalks, making sure there are places for a young family to start living – giving options for residential development that isn’t only a house. He reiterated that he wasn’t throwing in the town, but was attempting to provide a plan that is realistic to where the community is demographically.

“I don’t think the sky is falling,” Mullen said. “But I don’t think it’s raining rainbows either. So, I think we need to address the things we can, and not to give you things that are beyond your wheelhouse to be able to accomplish.”

Justin Cavanaugh, Harrison city manager/clerk and Planning Commission recorder, added that he didn’t see any of the stated goals as unrealistic and that the Steering Committee had wanted goals not to reflect anything the City couldn’t do itself. He also said the goals are stated in a way that infers the City would take a deep look at an issue without actually committing action/limitation.

Mullen cited the example of blight, and the fact that people may know there is code enforcement, but may not understand the why of it. “So give them a fact sheet – that may help 20-40-50% of the people comply.” He conceded that for multiple reasons/circumstances there would never be 100% compliance. “But it’s making sure your staff has enough resources to get as much compliance [as possible] done without laying it on the court.”

The Planning Commission agreed that an open house for gathering public input, to include inviting City Council members, would be the best next step. Thus, a motion was made and approved to go forward with that open house and hold it concurrent with the next Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, May 14.

© Clare County Cleaver


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