Michigan Land Use Institute

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Sprawlbusters Update

A Glimpse Inside the Insitute's Projects

March 24, 2003 |

Reviving Natural Rivers
Michigan is mounting a River Revolution. From the toxic waters of the Kalamazoo River to the heavily logged banks of the Upper Peninsula’s Yellow Dog River, citizens are rallying to protect Great Lakes tributaries. The Institute is focused on reviving the Natural Rivers Act, which halts shortsighted, environmentally damaging development.

Andy Guy, the Institute’s journalist and organizer in Grand Rapids, is working with the Pine River Watershed Coalition and the Upper Manistee River Association to revive the long-suppressed legislation for the Pine and Upper Manistee rivers. Enacted in 1970, it has so far empowered local communities and state officials to designate 14 waterways as “Natural Rivers.”

But in 1992 the Engler administration bowed to property rights radicals and squelched further attempts to use it. West Michigan citizens spent six years holding public meetings, consulting Department of Natural Resources scientists, learning from citizens who live in protected watersheds, and working with local officials to draft Natural River plans for the Pine and Upper Manistee. They earned endorsements from the Wexford and Osceola county commissions, garnered resounding poll numbers from local citizens, and gained the support of Trout Unlimited, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, and Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council.

The next step is challenging: Persuading legislators and DNR management to endorse the plan when they are under intense pressure from property rights proponents to kill it. In February, the law’s supporters finally persuaded the DNR to begin holding public hearings on their proposal.
For more information, including a hearings schedule, contact Natural Rivers manager Steve Sutton at 517-241-9049 or suttonsl@michigan.gov. The DNR Natural Rivers Web site maps all 14 Natural Rivers at michigan.gov/dnr; click on the site map and scroll to “Forests, Land & Water.”  Pat Kochanny, president of the Pine River Watershed Coalition, is at 231-775-9717 or pkochanny@netonecom.net. Andy Guy is at 616-308-6250 or andy@mlui.org.

Steve Craker
South Fox Island's rare dunes

Shoring Up Emmet’s Bluffs
Jim Lively, the Institute’s planning expert, has been visiting village, township, and county board meetings along Michigan’s northwest coast. In Emmet County, he’s working with the county planner, the Emmet County Lakeshore Association, and the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council to design a zoning ordinance that protects the beautiful bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan. Currently they are threatened by improper development that could cause serious erosion or collapse.

Protecting South Fox Island
Jim also leads the Institute’s continuing charge, along with the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, to stop a land swap on South Fox Island that would give 300-foot-tall, “globally rare” sand dunes to a businessman who was a generous donor to former Republican Governor John Engler and who already owns much of the island. For the latest on this dynamic story, and a peek at some hot shots from the island, visit the Land & Water section of our Web site, mlui.org.

MLUI/Pat Owen

Planting New Seeds
The Institute launched its New Entrepreneurial Agriculture Project in March 2002. It aims to show community leaders how they can save farmland by helping farmers build innovative businesses and develop new markets. This generates new income for farm families, encourages spending in their communities, and keeps their land sprawl-free.

As a first step, Institute agriculture project manager Patty Cantrell is researching and writing articles about the true value of farm jobs and how communities can develop more of them, and then sharing her work with experts and officials who traditionally discount the value of farm jobs. She also speaks to community groups about weaving entrepreneurial agriculture into their own development and preservation plans. Patty is presenting her work to conferences in Michigan and around the country. Her research is attracting national attention for documenting how entrepreneurial agriculture strategies generate local jobs and protect farmland. In March, she led a session on entrepreneurial farming at the American Farmland Trust national conference in Monterrey, California.

Patty is now laying the groundwork for the Institute’s own, first-ever, statewide conference. “Seeds of Prosperity: Food, Farms, and Michigan’s Economic Future” takes place at Crystal Mountain Resort near Thompsonville Nov. 11-13. It will focus on how the state can save farmland by building a new entrepreneurial agriculture industry. To help design compelling workshops, she’s recruited representatives of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Michigan Small Business Development Center, Michigan Department of Agriculture, the Michigan Farm Bureau, and others.

For more information on the conference, email seeds@mlui.org or click on “Prosperous Farms” at mlui.org.

Bob Carstens
Boardman River Valley

Battle Over Boardman
One of the Institute’s most protracted battles over unwise highway design in the Grand Traverse region is reaching a climax. That has transportation project manager Kelly Thayer up to his elbows in legal briefs, technical jargon, and strategic maneuvering. It took five years, but the Institute and local citizen groups successfully stopped the Michigan Department of Transportation from building a sprawl spreader — better known as a four-lane expressway bypass — around Traverse City. But the Grand Traverse County Road Commission still intends to build part of the original, now otherwise dead proposal — a very large bridge over a particularly beautiful, untouched stretch of the Boardman River south of town. 

All this comes 16 years after residents knocked the bridge down in a millage vote, after official opposition from the Traverse City Commission, and after bridge proponents’ own study said the bridge would be a sprawl magnet. A year ago it became apparent that the only way to stop this unnecessary, expensive project and compel the county road commission to consider cheaper, wiser alternatives was to file a lawsuit.

So early last year the Institute, All the Way to the Bay, the Coalition for Sensible Growth, the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council and the Sierra Club did just that. The court eventually dismissed the suit as “premature” until the road commission applies for a state wetland-filling permit. The road commission said it would apply for those permits this spring, so Kelly and our allied groups are readying a citizens’ intervention process against that application. Please check our Web site, mlui.org, for timely updates on the battle to protect the fabulous, still-threatened Boardman River Valley.

Glenway Rauth
A neighborhood-friendly school

Central High's Big Comeback?
Schools often serve as community centers. So why are so many of them being built so far from . . . um, the centers of communities?  Local school boards, it turns out, have a huge influence on land use decisions when they decide to build new schools on the outskirts of town. While rural land parcels may be larger and cheaper, building schools on them often still ends up costing taxpayers more because of the other things they require: New sewers, water lines, roads, and longer trips for both school buses and harried parents. Building new schools in outlying areas also triggers plenty of home and business construction in those same, usually undeveloped areas. Sometimes these same school boards then find themselves forced to close other, older schools to cover their budgets.

Thanks to a unique, first-ever partnership with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Mac McClelland, the Institute’s newest staffer, is investigating the connection between land use and school location. Over the next few months, Mac will be researching school-driven development patterns as he meets with representatives from schools, local governments, businesses, and communities. His goal: A list of comprehensive, well-documented policy recommendations that favor preserving existing schools and building new ones in town centers. Mac will coauthor the report with Institute founder and Deputy Director Keith Schneider. It will start landing on policymakers’ desks when it’s published in early September.

The Kellogg Foundation is funding this groundbreaking project with a grant from the People and Land Program, administered by Public Sector Consultants in Lansing. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce wants to address the issue of school location and land use because of its strong interest in how indiscriminate land use hurts downtowns, big and small.

Michigan Land Use Institute

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