2018-12-08 / News

New Mackinac Island Master Plan Approved After Years of Review

By Stephanie Fortino

After nearly three years of work, the Mackinac Island five-year Master Plan has been updated, following the last formal public hearing October 9. Several members of the public asked about aspects of the plan, mainly about what updates had been changed since the first draft was issued in May.

At the Planning Commission’s regular meeting October 9, the Master Plan was approved 4-1. Jim Pettit voted against the Master Plan, as he has in the past, because the future land use map indicates that commercial property on Fourth Street in Harrisonville should eventually be rezoned residential. Following the meeting, Mr. Pettit explained that he does not believe the city should take away commercial property on the Island, where only 18% of the land mass is within the city limits, the rest belonging to the state park.

The Mackinac Island City Council supported the Planning Commission’s approval of the plan the next day, October 10, allowing the plan to go into effect by the end of October.

Consultant Adam Young of Wade Trim led the Master Plan review process. He led two public workshops on the plan and gathered public input through surveys and interviews. The plan also includes the thoughts of students at Mackinac Island Public School, who filled out a survey.

The first draft was available in May and was shared with the public. Since then, some changes made to the Master Plan, Mr. Young explained, including references to the importance of fishing and dark skies. A statement that the city would obtain local, state, and federal funding was also added, which will help the city when applying for grants, he said.

During the public hearing, resident Jim Reitman asked about whether language had been added about how the city could raise more money though a hotel or room tax, or by evaluating the business licensing fee structure.

Planning Commission Chair Mike Straus, who moderated the hearing, said the city could not implement a tax solely on hotel rooms, as state law only allows such taxes to be used for advertising, as it currently is through Mackinac Island Tourism, the joint name for the Island tourism bureau and convention and visitors bureau. The city could only implement an overall sales tax, Mr. Straus said. He also noted that evaluating the city’s fees falls to the city council, and the Master Plan is not the correct place to include it.

Planning commission member Anneke Myers, who also serves on the city council, noted the fees are reviewed every year and must only cover the costs the city incurs when reviewing the application. The city cannot charge fees to make a profit, she said.

Mr. Reitman clarified that he is concerned whether the city is charging enough to cover infrastructure costs. He suggested business license fees be based on the size and use of commercial buildings, and that the city’s fee structure be compared to other communities.

Mrs. Myers also noted that larger buildings and commercial properties pay more in property taxes than residences, which helps to pay for the city’s infrastructure costs, school operations, county expenses, and other services.

Steve Rilenge also spoke during the public comment session, echoing similar statements he has made at previous meetings that he believes the city must know how many visitors travel to the Island each year. Ferry companies refuse to supply such figures to the city. He argued that it is hard to know how the city should be planning for future infrastructure needs if it doesn’t know how many people are coming here. He asked whether the city could apply for a grant to hire someone to count the number of people arriving at the ferry docks, and if such language was added to the Master Plan.

Establishing a way to count the number of visitors to the Island is included in the new plan, Mr. Straus said.

Now that the Master Plan has been updated, Tom Corrigan asked how soon the Island’s Zoning Ordinance would be updated, again.

The city does not plan to do a full review of the Zoning Ordinance, Mrs. Myers explained, but will consider making updates to it in a few months. Planning Commission Secretary Katie Pereny has been keeping track of changes that should be made to the Zoning Ordinance, some of which are also being reviewed by the city’s Ordinance Committee. Citizens are asked to share what sections of the Zoning Ordinance they believe need updating, Mr. Straus said. Soon, a Zoning Ordinance Review Committee will be named, which will bridge the gap until the next time the Master Plan needs to be updated.

“We need to take a deep breath and live our lives a little bit,” he said, before starting the Zoning Ordinance review.

Audience member Cordie Puttkammer inquired whether extending the boardwalk downtown was added to the Master Plan, as prompted by Mack Trayer’s harbor improvement plan published in the October 6 edition of the Town Crier.

The Master Plan Committee discussed whether boardwalk improvements should be added to the updated plan, Mr. Straus said. The boardwalk is mentioned in the plan, said Planning Commission and Master Plan committee member Mary Dufina, and Mr. Straus said more detailed plans on developing the boardwalk were left out until the next Master Plan update in five years.

The Master Plan is available on the Town Crier’s Web site, www.mackinacislandnews.com, under the “General Documents” tab.

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