2005-08-13 / Top News

Citizens Direct Mackinac’s Future at Master Plan Hearing

By Leslie Rott and Karen Gould

By Leslie Rottand Karen Gould

More than 50 Mackinac Island citizens took advantage of an opportunity to help steer the future direction of Mackinac Island during a public hearing Thursday, August 4, as city planners review and revise the city’s master plan, which was last updated in 1999.

“I think the harbor side of the downtown shops should be spruced up with a boardwalk,” said city planning official Dennis Dombroski during the group discussion period at the hearing. He was participating as a citizen and suggested a downtown boardwalk along the shore could enhance the Island’s waterfront area, reduce traffic on Main Street, and potentially offer more shopping and eating possibilities, he explained.

Similar comments could be heard around the room, all focused on how to make the Island a better place for residents and visitors, either by preserving good things that already are here or by addressing problem areas.

“What about preserving some more old buildings on the Island?” asked John Huibregtse. “People come here not to see new hotels, but old buildings. There’s a lot of old buildings that are gone. We need to protect the integrity of older buildings,” he said. “When they’re gone, they’re gone.”

“It saddens me that the State Park does not have the funds to restore Fort Holmes,” said resident Kent Weber.

Michigan communities are required by the state to have a master plan and to update it every five years. A city’s master plan serves as a basis for its zoning ordinance, which guides development to conform to what the community desires.

A final master plan should protect cultural and environmental areas and could determine the housing densities and types of development in the future. Improvements to the infrastructure, such as water, sewer, and electricity, can be directed toward areas where the master plan predicts future growth and development.

“This is for you and us to join in this master plan effort and it’s the only way we can get it done right,” said Mike Hart, Master Plan Committee chairman, addressing the crowd and offering background information on the planning process.

“It’s everyone’s plan,” agreed Mary Dufina, a member of the ad hoc committee.

Those attending the workshop quickly became involved in the process by dividing into three separate focus groups, designed to make it easier to voice opinions, share ideas and concerns, and ask questions. Attendees gravitated into groups with those who offered similar interests. For example, mostly summer residents comprised one group, another contained a majority of year-around residents, and the last group was comprised primarily of business people.

Maintaining the horse culture and a concern that there are too many motorized vehicles used on the Island topped the list of all the groups. Learning about what tourists think of Mackinac, what they want, and what other communities are doing was important to one of the groups. Another group was concerned about the density of housing and maintaining the integrity of the Island through preservation of historic buildings.

The groups were facilitated by committee members Mary Dufina, Lorna Strauss, and Mike Hart, who were supported by Vice-chairman Robert Brown and committee members Kay Hoppenrath and Mayor Margaret Doud.

As to who’s best interests were to be kept in mind, Mr. Brown said, “As master planners, we do cover the whole Island.”

Mike Bacon suggested all residents, summer and year-around, should be protected by the master plan, noting that the committee’s suggestion that only year-around residents need protection is provincial and divisive.

Citizens also were concerned with the continued high-density housing development on the Island, which, if not regulated, could theoretically double the population. Current zoning ordinances make it possible for up to 600 condominium units to be added at several separate locations on the Island, Mr. Hart said.

One idea offered was to make it a requirement of new residential buildings to have land set aside for barns or some other type of horse housing.

“It’s almost impossible to find a place to put horses on Mackinac Island,” Patricia Martin said.

The group suggested that new subdivisions have community barns, because more residential development will otherwise leave less room for horses. Candice Dunnigan, president of the Mackinac Horsemen’s Association, voiced her concern that the horse culture on the Island could disappear within the next five years if the Island continues to be developed at the current rate.

“I think the Island is pretty much at capacity now, isn’t it,?” asked Michelle Stuck. “Where’s it going to expand to?”

Mr. Weber said that 30 years ago, the Mackinac Island Preservation Society warned city officials that all the development that now is taking place on the Island would happen, but he felt they were ignored and ordinances were not put in place then that could have prevented the high density growth issues the Island now faces.

One of the greatest issues facing the Island is the need for better and more consistent enforcement of ordinances, a participant in one group suggested, owing to exceptions being made in the past that have affected the Island in adverse ways, such as the traffic congestion that Islanders and tourists battle on a daily basis.

With the continued growth comes more congestion on Main Street and additional traffic issues, which leads to the need for more police and, in turn, more funding for the police department, said Mrs. Hoppenrath.

Mr. Hart, a city alderman, told his group that the city may soon need to allocate more funds to pay a full-time fire chief because of increasing calls, new regulations, and added hours the job now requires.

The economy and increasing competitiveness for the shrinking tourist dollar was the center of focus for one group. The master plan should consider outside influences, such as programs in other resort communities, as well as getting an outsider’s perspective about how the Island accommodates visitors, participants suggested.

“We should not forget what Mackinac City was 30 years ago,” said Pat Pulte of the Murray Hotel. “It was a one-horse town.”

Posted on the wall for each group were two large sheets of paper. One listed “Assets to Protect,” and the other contained “Issues to Address.” Group members were to discuss the lists, make additions, and indicate the importance of an issue by placing a red dot on those issues most significant to them.

“You are the 'prioritizers' here,” said Mr. Hart. “Each one of you sets your own priorities.”

Those attending the public hearing were given a questionnaire that included questions regarding how to protect the characteristics of the Island that make it a desirable tourism stop, how to improve the Island’s year-around community, and how to use the limited land that is still available for development. Completed questionnaires need to be returned to City Hall by Monday, August 15. For those who were not able to attend the meeting, but would like to fill out a questionnaire, they are available at the City Clerk’s office.

Compiled results of the questionnaire and of suggestions made by participants will be made public at a later date.

The City is working on a Web site, which they hope to have up and working soon, which will keep the community updated on the progress and development of the Master Plan.

A second public hearing on the Master Plan will be held Monday, August 29, at 6 p.m. in Community Hall.

Two sheets contained Island issues and offered starting points for residents during group discussions. Participants added their own priorities to the list and voted on them at the session.

Protecting Assets

• year-around community

• ban horseless carriages, horse culture

• tourism industry

• historic buildings, Island history

• State Park, Fort Mackinac

• Natural areas, scenic beauty, water views

• geology (Arch Rock)

Addressing Issues

• managing growth/development on the remaining limited land

• housing affordability for year-around residents

• employee housing (location, standards for maintenance and management)

• traffic congestion (bike, pedestrian, carriages)

• cost of living

• balancing needed services with the ability to fund them now and in the future

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