Sunday, March 18, 2012

Updated: Tea Party views dominate meeting on County Master Plan

By Michele Bourdieu

At a public meeting held March 12, 2012, at the Portage Lake District Library, Guy St. Germain, standing, Houghton County Planning Commission chair, welcomes public input on the draft update to the 2006 Master Plan for Houghton County. Other Planning Commission members include (seated at the table from left) Susan Burack, Jack Duweke, Dana Richter and Barbara LeFex Lewis. Planning Commission members not present at this meeting were Anton Pintar, Evan McDonald, Jon Leinonen and Bill Fink. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

HOUGHTON -- Members of the Houghton County Planning Commission faced considerable criticism of the County's Master Plan at a March 12, 2012, meeting intended to take public input on updating the five-year-old plan.

About 45 local residents, including commissioners, attended the meeting in the Portage Lake District Library Community Room. Members of Concerned Citizens of the Upper Peninsula (CCUP, aka local Tea Party), led by their director, Mary Sears, presented many arguments against the Master Plan and circulated a petition against the Plan, which Sears says is a step to county zoning. *

Residents who appeared to be CCUP members or supporters (although most did not give their names) pointed out contradictions and negativity in the language of the 2006 Land Use Plan (now called the Houghton County Master Plan), while expressing the view that the plan would lead to county zoning -- despite the fact that the Houghton County Board of Commissioners, which approved the Plan in 2006, has gone on record as opposing county zoning but offering the plan as a guide to townships and municipalities, should they wish to use it for grant applications and recreation plans or as a model for local (not county) zoning.

[Keweenaw Now presents here some video clips of the meeting, as well as links to additional video clips we have posted on YouTube, in order to offer readers the opportunity to view and listen to comments made at the meeting. The video clips are numbered in chronological order in their titles on our YouTube channel, Keweenaw News, in order to facilitate following the discussion at the meeting.]

Guy St. Germain, Houghton County Planning Commission chair, explains the purpose of the Master Plan and the fact that Houghton County does not intend to adopt county zoning:



Guy St. Germain, Houghton County Planning Commission chair, opens the March 12 public meeting in Portage Lake District Library by explaining the purpose of the County's Master Plan and the fact that Houghton County does not intend to adopt county zoning. While some townships and municipalities in the county have zoning, the Master Plan is a guide, not a zoning document, he notes. (Video clips by Keweenaw Now)

St. Germain said the Planning Commission welcomes public comment (the purpose of this meeting) to assist them in updating the draft Master Plan. The public is invited to attend the next two Planning Commission meetings -- Tuesday, March 20, and Tuesday, April 17, and to offer further input. Both meetings will be held at 4 p.m. on the 5th Floor, Houghton County Courthouse.**

UPDATE (March 21): At the Tuesday, March 20, Houghton County Planning Commission meeting, it was decided to extend the public comment period and revision of the Master Plan. The public may now comment on the Master Plan during public comment periods at the Planning Commission meetings on April 17 (5 p.m.), May 15 (3 p.m.) and June 19 (5 p.m.) and during Houghton County Board of Commissioners meetings preceding June 19. (See Editor's Notes below.) The Planning Commission will hold a formal public hearing on June 19 at the beginning of that meeting. Written comments can also be sent to the Planning Commission up to June 19. The revised Master Plan will be made available on line.**

UPDATE: The comment period will end June 19, 2012, after which the Planning Commission will present the revised Plan to the County Board of Commissioners for adoption, probably at their July 10, 2012, meeting.

A flyer circulated at the March 12 meeting by members of the Concerned Citizens of the Upper Peninsula (CCUP) Tea Party group reflects some misconceptions about the Master Plan (formerly known as the Houghton County Land Use Plan). The flyer's heading is "Stop the Houghton County Land Use Plan."

The flyer quotes as follows from what appears to be the Houghton County Land Use Plan: "What you need to know about Land Use Plans: 'In addition to providing a general framework for decision-making the plan will assist the Planning Commission in updating the zoning ordinance to reflect the desired future land use pattern for the County. ...'"

This quote, taken out of context, gives the impression that Houghton County has or intends to have a zoning ordinance -- but it does not.

Mary Sears, CCUP director, presented the group's view that Houghton County intends to have county zoning and pointed to the Keweenaw County Zoning Ordinance for comparison, although Keweenaw County is the only county in Michigan which, because of its small size, has adopted county zoning:



Mary Sears, director of Concerned Citizens of the Upper Peninsula (CCUP), a Tea Party group, speaks at the March 12 public meeting on the Houghton County Master Plan (formerly called the Houghton County Land Use Plan). She presents CCUP's view that the Master Plan will lead to county zoning. Planning commissioners at the meeting replied that the Plan is merely a guide and the Houghton County Board of Commissioners has gone on record saying the County has no intention to adopt county zoning.

In a reply to Sears' statements, Planning Commissioner Jack Duweke, who has been on the Commission since the inception of this Plan, attempted to clear up this misconception about the Master Plan, noting "there was never a support for county zoning -- ever."

St. Germain added the Master Plan's purpose is "to provide a general guideline ... for those units (townships and municipalities) who may want to launch from that guideline into zoning. The County has not ever intended to do zoning and has gone on record as (saying) that."

Only a few Houghton County townships actually have zoning: Duncan, Chassell, Portage and Calumet townships.

Dave Mattson, Chassell Township supervisor, said he believed his township residents are happy to have zoning.

"When we're dealing with friends and neighbors the zoning can be handled more delicately and precisely," Mattson told Keweenaw Now after the meeting. "I think people are afraid of losing control at the local level -- losing zoning controls to the higher levels of government."

Rev. Bob Langseth, who said he was active in working on Calumet Township's land use plan, spoke in support of the Houghton County Master Plan:



Rev. Bob Langseth speaks about the success of land use planning and zoning in Calumet Township and expresses support for the Houghton County Master Plan.

How much open space?

The amount of open space and public access to land for recreation was a subject of discussion at the meeting.

Rolf Peterson asked the planning commissioners if a map of Commercial Forest (CFA) land for the whole county could be added to the Master Plan, since it is related to public access. (Click here for video clip 3 with this question.)

Randy McClellan projected specific pages of the draft Master Plan and pointed out discrepancies in some places as well as his mathematical calculations of how much public access land is available per person:



Randy McClellan addresses the question of open space and public access in his projection of specific pages of the draft Master Plan. He also talks about the Torch Lake Superfund, which is mentioned in the Plan.

Citing statements about the waterfront real estate potential of remediated stamp sand sites, such as the Torch Lake Superfund, McClellan pointed out that covering the stamp sand does not remove all the toxic pollution in the water.

"How can you even think about selling lots on potentially hazardous land?" he asked.

Later McClellan challenged the view of a young resident who said he believed the pollution would clean itself naturally in a few years. (See video 14)

Acknowledging McClellan's points were valid, Planning Commissioners St. Germain and Duweke said they would look at that section of the plan again and make sure the language is read as descriptive and not as an endorsement of such real estate sales on toxic areas.

McClellan noted Houghton County has plenty of open space per person and not that much rural residential development. He also supported his views with population statistics stated in the draft Master Plan, noting the high percentage of unemployed residents over 16 years of age (45 percent), noting these residents would not be buying property and depriving others of open space. Planning Commissioner Jack Duweke replied that some of the figures were taken from the census. He agreed with McClellan on some of his points on contradictions in the Plan. He also explains one purpose of the plan was to help in township border land use planning:



Randy McClellan points out discrepancies on "rural residential development" in the draft Master Plan. County Commissioner Jack Duweke agrees with some of McClellan's points and explains the intentions behind the 2006 Plan with regard to townships.

McClellan also found negativity in the Plan's statements on people "dumping" and posting no trespassing signs on their own property. Click here for video clip 7 on this subject.

St. Germain thanked McClellan for his presentation and said he would take note of his comments.

To other residents who noted
negativity in the language of the Plan, both St. Germain and Duweke indicated they appreciated the input. (Click here for various comments in video 8)

"The intent was not to make it onerous and threatening," Duweke said, "and your comments will be listened to."

Donna Des Jardin of Lake Linden spoke about the importance of attending township meetings. She gave an example of her work to help Lake Linden acquire funding for a farmers' market. Later Des Jardin defended the Master Plan as a needed overview so that township boards would not just follow their own agendas when few residents attend their meetings.

Another resident asked that the comment period be extended beyond April 18. (Click here for video 9 with these comments.)

Anonymous businessman asks commissioners about their business background

One resident, a retired business owner who chose to remain anonymous but who appeared to be a member or supporter of CCUP, spoke about his own background in business and manufacturing. He asked the Commissioners to describe their own backgrounds and their experience in business.

"It's a fair question," the businessman said:



Retired business owner asks planning commissioners about their business background.

The businessman accused the commissioners of "condescending looks." He said the Master Plan is "part of a whole network of things that are going to take away many of our liberties and freedoms in this country."

Residents value independence, less government

John Larson, a middle school teacher in Calumet who moved here from Grand Rapids, said he has grown to appreciate the independence of people in this area. He described his good relationship with his neighbor and suggested the commissioners
go back to the board and admit that "these people don't want this." (Click here for video 11 with Larson's comments.)

A woman from Hancock and Elm River cites her extensive travel and work in other countries and states as a basis for Tea Party views. Bill Manderfield talks about his nervousness at the idea of government control:



An unidentified, well traveled nurse says the Plan "is taking away our freedoms." Bill Manderfield says he thinks the area has improved environmentally. He says he doesn't want a Planning Commission or any government telling him how to manage his property.

Teacher John Larson gave an example of community members helping needy children in school when state funds are insufficient. He applied this to the land use plan, which he sees as leading to loss of local control:



Teacher John Larson speaks again for local control. The anonymous businessman accuses the Plan of "land grabbing our property rights" and "refining lies." Commissioners Duweke and Richter reply.

"This was a plan that the state required us to do," Duweke said.

He repeated the initial purpose of the plan to help townships and municipalities with recreation planning, grant funding and zoning at the township level.

"I'll look at this with new eyes," he said.

Mary Sears made some final comments on how zoning can affect property values and taxes.

In his final comments, the anonymous businessman said, "We don't like it (the Plan). We see the door that it opens, and it's not good. It leads to socialism."

Another unidentified Tea Party resident asked the Commissioners to look into Agenda 21. ***

In summary, St. Germain said, "There were some substantive individual comments about things that we need to look into in the Plan to either correct or modify or rewrite, but it's clear that the bigger message ... (is) disagreement with the possibility of renewing and re-establishing a master plan, or, at a minimum, if the Master Plan is re-established, that its tone be radically different than the one that was read into this by much of this audience."

St. Germain noted also that the Planning Commission is truly interested in public feedback. That is why they set up the series of three meetings (see above).

"I was overwhelmed by the number of people here," St. Germain added, "and I was glad to hear the amount of commentary on our Master Plan."

Editor's Notes:

*Learn more about CCUP on their Web site. CCUP is identified as a Tea Party group on the Tea Party Patriots Web site.

** The Master Plan can be viewed and downloaded at http://www.houghtoncounty.net/2006LandUse.shtml

In addition to attending the Planning Commission meetings mentioned above, the public can attend the following County Board of Commissioners' meetings:
-- Regular meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 10, 5th Floor, Houghton County Courthouse.

-- Regular Meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 15, 5th Floor, Houghton County Courthouse. Update: This follows a Houghton County Planning Commission meeting at 3 p.m. the same day.

More Updates on Houghton County Commissioners meetings:

-- Regular Meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 12,
5th Floor, Houghton County Courthouse.

-- Regular Meeting
at 5 p.m. Tuesday, July 10, 5th Floor, Houghton County Courthouse. (Will probably act on the Master Plan at this meeting.)

Written comments on the Master Plan should be sent by US Mail to Houghton County Planning Commission, c/o Houghton County Controller, Houghton County Courthouse, 401 E. Houghton Avenue, Houghton, MI 49931 or by email to Planning Commissioner Bill Fink at billfink@charter.net by June 19, 2012.

*** Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the Statement of principles for the Sustainable Management of Forests were adopted by more than 178 Governments at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, 3 to 14 June 1992.

Click here to read "Agenda 21 And The Tea Party Threat To Smart Planning Rears Its Ugly Head in California."

Click here to read "We Don't Need None of That Smart-Growth Communism."

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