Michigan Land Use Institute

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Sprawlbusters Udate

A glimpse inside the Institute's projects

June 16, 2003 |


Let’s Be Flexible

Gary Howe
  The Grand Traverse County Road Commission wants to drive a stake into the heart of the Boardman River Valley.
Michiganders once regarded new roads like they do sunny days and winning sports teams. Then, as highways flattened more homes, businesses, and the countryside, that attitude changed. Today the Michigan Department of Transportation rightly faces stiff opposition almost every time it tries to build a new road. Institute Transportation Project Manager Kelly Thayer has two words of advice for the agency: Be flexible.

The federal government promotes “flexible highway design.” States such as Minnesota, Kentucky, and Maryland routinely practice it. Now Kelly is working to convince Michigan to always think that way, not just when outraged citizens are raising a sustained ruckus that cannot be ignored. That’s exactly what happened when the Institute and Emmet County citizens won a 15-year battle with MDOT last September to stop a proposed highway bypass around Petoskey. MDOT is now working with Petoskey-area citizens and leaders to come up with a better plan. In other words, the agency is finally engaging in·flexible highway design.

Meanwhile, Kelly continues the Institute’s valiant defense of the Boardman River valley from a sprawl-spreading bridge that the Grand Traverse County Road Commission wants to build through a gorgeous stretch of it south of Traverse City. Now that the road commission has applied to the state Department of Environmental Quality for permits to fill in acres of wetlands to facilitate bridge construction, Kelly is ensconced in a new round of legal briefs and environmental findings. To help the Institute, the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, and Anglers of the Boardman save a very special spot and get some more of that “flexible highway design” going, contact Kelly at kelly@mlui.org.


An All-Star Lineup

MLUI/Pat Owen
  A key to prosperity: Linking local farms to local markets.
The Institute’s pioneering conference on entrepreneurial agriculture, “Seeds of Prosperity: Food, Farms and Michigan’s Economic Future,” doesn’t start until November 11. But Institute Agriculture Project Manager Patty Cantrell is working overtime to assure its significance for the economic developers and local and state policy makers who will attend.

Patty has lined up some excellent speakers, including Jay Healy, Dr. Lorna Butler, and Neil Hamilton. Mr. Healy, the former Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture, built a highly innovative and low-cost method for preserving farmland using business development techniques that help make small farms much more profitable. Dr. Butler is an expert on investing in sustainable agriculture to help farms and cities prosper. Professor Hamilton leads a national effort to reduce hunger and expand rural economic development by improving opportunities for small and non-traditional farmers.

The three-day conference at Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville also offers panels on linking local farms to local markets, small-scale processing, direct marketing to restaurants and schools, pairing farms with communities to create non-food markets, and the rise of agri-tours, bio-fuels, plastics, and other new revenue streams.
There’s some good, old-fashioned fun scheduled too, including a cooking contest masquerading as a reception, with local chefs whipping up hors d’oeuvres using made-in-Michigan foods. For more information, go to www.mlui.org, or call the Institute at 231-882-4723.

Patty is a nationally recognized expert on entrepreneurial agriculture, a powerful new tool for preserving farmland by helping farmers boost their profits. She will speak on her favorite subject to economic developers, planners, and government leaders at two other, important conferences. She leads a first-ever workshop on niche farming at the Michigan Economic Developers Association’s August gathering, and talks about zoning as a way to encourage entrepreneurial agriculture at the Michigan Society of Planning’s October meeting.


The Price is Right

MLUI/Doug Rose
  Affordable housing in Traverse City
Quality housing for everyone is a basic civil right, yet towns boasting pricey real estate often resist allowing affordable housing within their borders. That’s not the case in Frankfort, where the Institute’s Jim Lively and   Mac McClelland are collaborating with town officials and a developer who wants to build homes that working people can afford immediately adjacent to the city, in Lake Township. A city annexation vote and some adjustment of the town’s tax structure to maintain the project’s financial stability are key next steps.

And, along with our Grand Rapids journalist and organizer, Andy Guy, Jim is increasing the Institute’s affordable housing efforts in west Michigan as well.

The recent boom in school construction has some communities enduring interruptions from traffic or construction activity without any say. This is exactly what prompted Northville Township and its citizens to challenge a school improvement project and the 1937 law that gives the state school superintendent sole power over school buildings and their site plans. The Michigan State Supreme Court heard oral arguments in June; a ruling will come in late summer. The Institute filed an amicus brief arguing for a broader community role in decisions about locating schools and encouraging schools downtown instead of in farm fields. Our own Mac McClelland will address how school construction often triggers sprawl in a special report this fall.


A Natural Process

MLUI/Andy Guy
  A citizen testifies at a Natural Rivers hearing in Grayling.
When Andy Guy arrived at the Institute three years ago, he quickly started to work reviving the state’s visionary but long-dormant Natural Rivers Program. The program permanently protects designated rivers from unwise development practices; a group of citizens and state scientists in northwestern Michigan wanted to defend the Pine and Upper Manistee rivers with it. Thanks to his and others’ tireless organizing on the project, as well as Andy’s own Web articles (read them at www.mlui.org) about the project, this spring’s statewide hearings and written comments indicated that support for protecting both rivers is strong. Governor Granholm wrote a letter supporting the designations; if outgoing DNR director K.L. Cool gives his approval, it would be the first time in 15 years that the state has protected a wild waterway, and brings the grand total of  Natural Rivers to 16.

Crystal Lake is dear to the Institute because it’s gorgeous, it’s extremely clean, and our Beulah office is just a block away. So when the DNR proposed building a boat launch there with room for 100 vehicles and their boat trailers in a parking lot that would be among Benzie County’s largest, the Institute became very concerned. The super-sized proposal triggered a dispute between lakefront property owners who want to preserve the lake’s peace, quiet, and crystalline waters and some Benzie County residents who want to float their boats with less hassle. So in April, Institute Planner Jim Lively started helping to bring the community together by proposing the development of a Crystal Lake Recreation Management Plan. The group he helped form will work to stop what everyone fears most — a surge in noisy, unsafe, lake — damaging boating activity. Jim volunteered to work with The Planning and Zoning Center, a private group in Lansing that will collect data, hold meetings, study the best lake protection rules, and write a management plan. Jim believes that this demonstration of the community’s ability to work together will help convince the DNR to downsize its final boat launch design.

And in March, the peripatetic Mr. Lively teamed up with the citizens of Omena, in Leelanau Township, to thwart an attack on the township’s master plan that would have converted farmland into subdivisions. He helped out with an educational campaign, and Institute Art Director Gail Dennis designed a get-out-the-vote flyer and newspaper ad. A strong turnout sealed the deal; voters handily upheld the master plan.

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