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Grand Vision Workshops Crack the 1,000 Mark

Continued high turnout heartens project’s sponsors

February 14, 2008 | By Glenn Puit
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

  Sponsors of The Grand Vision say its success turns on the kind of widespread participation the two-year project attracted to recent workshops in Traverse City, Acme (pictured here), and Interlochen.

TRAVERSE CITY— Demonstrating the intense interest many area residents have in helping to design their community’s future, more than 600 people showed up last month for three more planning workshops produced by The Grand Vision project.

Last October, the federally funded, locally based project, which aims to produce a six-county guide to future land use by the fall of 2009, attracted a standing-room-only crowd to its first workshop. Participants in all four workshops now have their designs for the region’s future stowed in a computer that is now turning them—and others to come in future workshops—into a selection of vividly illustrated "possible growth scenarios" for the region’s next half-century or so.

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Because the Vision project turns so heavily on citizen involvement—all local residents will be invited to evaluate, mix and match, and help shape the scenarios into a favorite—the strong turnout at the workshops are delighting the local business, civic, environmental, and governmental leaders who launched the project.

Strong participation in this first stage of the project is crucial, they say, to arriving at a plan that a large majority of area residents not only know about, but will also press their local governments to enact.

"All of us are just amazed at how involved citizens will be if you just give them the opportunity," said Grand Traverse County Administrator Dennis Aloia.

The latest workshops occurred on Jan. 23 and 24; they concentrated on much smaller areas than the October gathering: downtown Traverse City, Acme Township, and the Interlochen area.

According to Doug Christenson, who is managing the Grand Vision project for his firm, Mead & Hunt, close to 300 people attended the Jan. 23 Traverse City-only workshop at The Hagerty Center. Mr. Christenson said that there were almost that many participants attending either of the following evening’s simultaneous workshops on Acme and Interlochen, which were held, respectively, at the Grand Traverse Resort and the Great Wolf Lodge.

That means, combined with the 450 people at the October kickoff, The Grand Vision has broken the millennium mark in initial, hands-on citizen participation.

Lead consultant John Fregonese, whose proprietary, data-driven planning and graphics software is central to The Grand Vision process, told the Great Lakes Bulletin News Service that he has never seen such high attendance from such a lightly populated region. Mr. Fregonese recalled that when he led a similar process in Austin, Tex., a few years ago, the first workshop attracted almost 500 people, too.

But, he pointed out, the Austin region has about 1,500,000 residents—more than seven times as many as the six-county Grand Traverse region that is The Grand Vision’s study area.

Traverse City: Just Like Downtown
As they did in October, last month’s Grand Vision participants gathered in small groups at tables draped with big maps of the targeted areas. They discussed different ways their communities could manage thorny growth issues like commercial, residential, and industrial development; transportation choices from bike paths to bullet trains; and farmland and other open-space preservation.

After building a rough consensus, the groups used stickers to map out where they wanted to see new growth. The stickers were scaled to fit the map and represented specific types of buildings, new jobs, and residential neighborhoods. Participants also outlined areas where they wanted to prohibit development, and offered suggestions for future transportation needs, ranging from new and widened roads, to trails, to several types of public transit.

In Traverse City, area residents used their maps to tell the consultants that avoiding sprawl, preserving the shore of Grand Traverse Bay, and making the downtown areas more walkable were very important.

Fel Brunette, curator of the Fife Lake Museum, said he was using The Grand Vision to express his desire to preserve a historic Indian trail running through the region. He added that developing a new transportation model is crucial both for Acme and Traverse City.

"It’s important, I think, that we get a transportation route set up around Traverse City so people coming through the area do not have to fight through the downtown to get where they want to go," Mr. Brunette said.

Traverse City resident Dave Lawrence said that the city is at a critical juncture in its history, and that the Grand Vision gave him the opportunity to voice his opinion about making the city more than just a retirement community.

"Traverse City almost has an obligation to become something a little more than it is now without materially changing its character," Mr. Lawrence said. "I think Traverse City is attracting people like me to retire to the area, and I think it needs to attract young people at all age levels and income levels. That will provide for a more vibrant downtown.

"I would prefer to see a higher density in the downtown and not the sprawl we see as the typical American answer," Mr. Lawrence added. "I would like to see the area develop with higher density nodes that would make public transportation a better choice. I’m from the Detroit area, where everything is so spread out, and it’s very difficult to do."

Another Traverse City resident, Pete Albers, said he wants to make sure that, as the city manages its future development, it maintains the area’s quality of life.

"The last thing we want to do is make (the area) look unattractive to people," Mr. Albers said. "People are moving up here because of the quality of life—not because they want to be elbow to elbow with everyone else they left behind. It’s a conflict. It’s the most economical thing to do to use the areas that are already built up."

Acme: A Mixed Community
At the workshop in Acme Township, where community leaders have been in a nasty, years-long fight with developers and some residents over a proposed regional shopping mall, citizens split sharply between those who want big box style development and those who want a traditional, village-style community.

"We have a mixed community, and it looks like there are two different approaches," said Acme resident Darwin Fenner. "There is a faction of people who have property, and they don’t care what happens to Acme. All they want to do is sell property for a certain amount of jobs.

"I’d like to see more open spaces, schools, and I like Acme’s idea of establishing a town center," Mr. Fenner said. "When people have a little bit broader vision, you can have nice areas, parkways, and still retain what we have now. And, if we could work together with developers, they could help us do that."

Steve Perdue, who has lived in Acme for nearly three decades, wants the community to find a healthy balance between encouraging job growth and preserving the environment.

"Somehow, we need to protect farming and open spaces, forests, and all our lakes," Mr. Perdue said, adding that he sees population growth as an opportunity.

"I think people are a resource and not a problem," Mr. Perdue concluded. "If I want to live here, then I think it’s great if other people want to live here."

Wayne Kladder, who has served as Acme Township supervisor since August, said the controversy over proposed development in the township has led his government to review its planning and zoning ordinance. He also said that The Grand Vision is a healthy way for residents to give local government their input on the controversial issue.

"I think most people want to see a friendly Acme Township, a good place to live, and to work and to play," Mr. Kladder said. "We want recreation, we want business, we want tourism, and we are making plans for the growth."

John Goss, a resident of nearby Whitewater Township, said he came to the workshop in Acme to express his opinions on the area’s transportation and job development needs.

"I believe we’ll have to have a different type of transportation in the future," Mr. Goss said. "Gas prices keep going up and we keep sending our money to the Middle East. I would like to see people not have to travel so far to obtain their goods."

Next Steps
Kurt Schulte, who works with Kimley-Horn and Associates on the team with Fregonese and is compiling the workshops’ map markings and comments to generate a variety of future transportation models for the Grand Traverse region, said he was impressed by the willingness of workshop participants to consider alternative modes of transportation.

"I was blown away at the Traverse City workshop," Mr. Schulte said. "I came away with the sense that this is a very progressive community. People are very open to walking and biking and looking at other modes of transportation other than just the automobile."

Photographs of the maps that participants marked up at all four workshops—including last October’s kickoff—are posted on the project’s Web site, www.TheGrandVision.org. The Vision consultants are digitizing the workshop map information, entering it into the regional computer model they built, and will use the results to create between three and five different "future scenarios" that the community will use for what the project’s sponsors are calling "The Grand Vision Decision," a month-long community adoption process scheduled for early this summer.

The Vision team has also announced some details on its next series of workshops. The project presents a regional transportation workshop, which considers roads and other transportation choices in all six counties, at 6:30 on March 20 at the Civic Center in Traverse City. The team is currently making plans for additional workshops for the five other counties in the region—Antrim, Benzie, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Wexford—in April.

Glenn Puit is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s policy specialist for Emmet County. Reach him at glenn@mlui.org. To receive Grand Vision emails, which will announce when registration for the next workshops is underway, visit www.TheGrandVision.org.

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