Monday, August 06, 2007

Planning Commission hears public comment on proposed waterfront sale

Text and photos by Michele Anderson (with information from Planning Commission minutes)

HANCOCK -- The City of Hancock's potential sale of Government Lot #5 parcels immediately east of Swedetown Creek along Highway 203 was the subject of several public comments presented to the City of Hancock Planning Commission on July 23, 2007. This city-owned property is opposite a public access recreational spot, also city property, used as a boat launch at the place where the creek empties into the Portage.

City of Hancock Planning Commissioners, from left, Terry Monson, Kevin Ericson and Tom Gemignani listen to public comments at their July 23 meeting.

Evan McDonald, executive director of the Keweenaw Land Trust (KLT), asked the commission to use all resources of his organization and other state and regional resources to support keeping land in public ownership, including the city’s proposed land sale of the east side of Government Lot 5 slated for residential development. McDonald provided a narrative report on the 1997 Houghton County Land Use Survey.

Speaking in opposition to the sale of a portion of Government Lot 5, Susan Burack suggested the city use smart-growth ideas and use citizen decision making.

Ann Pace asked for more public participation in city decision making and suggested the city look for a forum for citizen input. Pace, who opposes any sale of Government Lot 5, had provided a copy of her comments to the City Council on July 18 after expressing her views at the public hearing preceding that meeting.*

In her written comments, Pace stresses the recreational benefits of the Swedetown Creek area to local residents and the long-term costs and benefits of buying and selling public land.

"Reducing the desirability of the city as a place to live will depress the value of properties when they sell, in turn reducing the potential tax base within the city as a whole," Pace writes. "This could easily negate all incremental income resulting from the sale and development of a single parcel of land."

Also expressing his opposition to the sale was John Slivon, a retired fisherman and Hancock resident.

"I think that any sale of land that jeopardizes opportunities for recreation such as fishing should be reconsidered," Slivon said.

John Slivon, left, addresses the Hancock Planning Commission at their July 23 meeting. Commissioners pictured are, from left, Tony Wilmers, David Lucchesi and Bob Wenc. At right is City Manager Glenn Anderson. In the foreground is Pat Coleman, Principal, U.P. Engineers and Architects, who addressed the Commission on transportation issues.

The land being considered for sale consists of three parcels: One parcel has frontage on the creek, and two have frontage on the Portage. The smallest parcel is only .11 acre with 18.52 ft. of M203 frontage and 25.51 ft. of Portage frontage and has a building belonging to a contiguous landowner.

Hancock City Manager Glenn Anderson said the potential sale of this property had been under discussion for a couple of years and one idea was to take some of the money, if the property on the east side of the creek were sold, and use it to improve the recreational land on the west side. Anderson suggested the Commission ask the city to obtain a survey of the city-owned parcels on both the east and the west sides of the creek so that any plan could be reviewed in the entirety of the property.

Slivon also asked how Hancock residents could better communicate with the decision makers on the City Council and the Planning Commission in order to have more input and a better understanding of the reasons behind these decisions.

Planning Commission Chairperson Dan Lorenzetti said any concerned citizens may call him. He also asked those in attendance at the meeting to put their proposed uses and ideas of the land in Government Lot 5 east of Swedetown Creek and south of M203 in writing and submit them before the next Commission meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, August 27.

Mayor Barry Givens said, in addition to attending meetings, all of which are open to the public, Hancock residents can also have their email addresses added to the city's list-serv and receive the agendas of the meetings.

Noah Karberg, who lives in West Hancock and has a background in natural resources, said he and his wife moved to Hancock for access to recreation such as Swedetown Creek and the Maasto Hiihto trails. He asked that the city get input on uses of the land before selling it.

"It really is a spectacular piece of land," Karberg said.

Noah Karberg addresses the
Planning Commission.

Hancock resident Merle Kindred also mentioned recreation at Maasto Hiihto as one of her reasons for living in Hancock. She noted she also uses the Swedetown Creek boat launch for her kayak. Noting her appreciation for the time Council members and commissioners put in for the city, Kindred said she understood the ever-present need for revenue -- an even greater need because of the State of Michigan's present economic state -- but she wondered how this potential land sale fits into the city's strategic plan.

Commission member Bob Wenc encouraged people to read the strategic plan update.** Wenc also asked that a summary of public ownership of the city waterfront be given to the commission at the August meeting.

Kindred said maintaining the beauty and public land was important since many people stay here or come here for the recreational opportunities. However, citizens tend to be uninformed about many decisions and become involved in the process late.

"I like the idea of a citizens' waterfront committee (to assist the Planning Commission)," Kindred added.

Like Kindred, Afton Sather-Knutsen said he lives here for the quality of life -- including running every day on the Maasto Hiihto Ski Trails and using the Swedetown boat launch. He expressed his support to keep the lots for public use.

Keren Tischler said she also moved here for Hancock's abundant recreational opportunities, but she believes these are fewer now. Tischler spoke in opposition to any lot sale in Government Lot 5.

Russ Hanson, a Hancock resident for 33 years, encouraged the city and commission to move slowly in its review of the proposed land sale.

Keren Tischler expresses her

opposition to any Government #5 lot sale.

Allison Jabusch said how important it is to protect water access to city residents and expressed her opposition to any sale of Government Lot 5.

Commission member Kevin Ericson said the city should prioritize waterfront needs. He encouraged the city to focus on the downtown and the development issues of the Kaminski property and continue to look at the tax base needs of the city in the review process.

Commission member Terry Monson asked residents attending the meeting for their written comments on uses of Government Lot 5.

As New Business the Commissioners heard from Pat Coleman, Principal, U.P. Engineers and Architects, who gave a 30-minute Power Point presentation on the US-41/M26 Highway corridor access management plan prepared by his firm.

Pat Coleman, standing, Principal, U.P. Engineers and Architects, gives a Power Point presentation on a US-41/M26 Highway corridor access management plan during the Hancock Planning Commission meeting July 23, 2007.

Transportation issues he is recommending to the city include:

-Convert Hancock Street to three lanes and eliminate highway traffic from Quincy St. to relieve congestion and noise from Quincy St .

-Identify an alternate East-West route for emergency situations.

-Consider a designated right-turn lane from M-203 to US-41 south bound.

-Investigate a roundabout at the intersection of US-41/M203.

-Conduct a study of White St. traffic.

-Consider turn lanes at Elevation St and US-41 ( North Lincoln Dr.)

Coleman also presented the commission with a draft access management ordinance and an access management standards appendix for use in site plan reviews. He emphasized the need for coordinated site plan review with access management standards.

Coleman said he would welcome being invited back for the August meeting to discuss the draft ordinance further.

In other business the Commission reviewed the Franklin Township board resolution supporting the restoration of the Quincy Smelter and learned that Senator Levin’s office has scheduled a meeting to discuss the condition of the smelter at 2 p.m. on Monday, August 6, at the Franklin Township Hall.

In response to the City Council and public comments, the Planning Commissioners approved unanimously a motion to request a registered land survey of the entire Government Lot 5 to assist the commission to study the use of the property as requested by the City Council and to request that it be due prior to the August 27th meeting.

Residents may submit written comments before August 27 to the following address:

Hancock City Council and Hancock Planning Commission
City Hall
399 Quincy St.
Hancock, MI 49930

See also the contact information on the City of Hancock Web site.

* See the July 23, 2007 article "Hancock Council hears public opposition to proposed land sale" on Keweenaw Now.
** Visit the City of Hancock Web site to read the Strategic Plan Update.

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