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Petoskey Looks beyond Bypass

Citizens envision a less road-weary future

February 20, 2007 | By Julie Hay
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Five years ago, a meeting in Petoskey about regional transportation would have packed a conference rooms in this Up North city with residents adamantly opposed to plans to build a highway bypass around their downtown. 

But times have changed. Last week, a meeting about how to deal with traffic in and around the city—without a bypass—brought residents, elected officials, and experts to Petoskey’s North Central Michigan College. Instead of protesting, they were there to talk about their hopes, concerns, and visions for the future.   

Most citizens here believe that the future is brighter now that widespread opposition to the bypass plan prompted the state transportation department, MDOT, to drop the proposal, which would have cut up farmland, diverted traffic from a downtown that needs it, and fostered sprawling development. So now Petoskey residents are putting together a new, from-the-ground-up, regional growth and transportation plan of their own.

Larry Strange works for the Corradino Group, which is conducting the Petoskey study; he led last week’s citizen workshop. Mr. Strange says the key to success is continued citizen participation, which is already something of a tradition here.

Larry Strange: “Well, transportation planning has a history in Petoskey of thirty years of somewhat controversial projects and issues.  For anything to be, particularly in a multi-jurisdictional environment, for anything to really have a chance to make a difference, it really needs to have consensus from the public.”

Jo and Jerry Hickman were two of the about 30 people who made their way through a fierce winter storm to the workshop. The couple, who own a beef cattle farm, are grateful that the bypass was stopped, but they still worry about how growth will affect their area. 

Jerry Hickman, a Petoskey native, is concerned about the loss of farmland. He questions the conventional wisdom that drives most transportation decisions—seeing it as short-sighted and overly auto-dependant. To him, every new road is an invitation to more development in the countryside.

Jerry Hickman: “We don’t want to give up farmland to put a road in then close another road so we can have a golf course through it, I guess is, my biggest concern.”

After the Corradino Group’s Mr. Strange explained the evening’s agenda, the participants broke into small groups and gathered at tables covered with maps, markers, and questionnaires. Facilitators from Gosling Czubak Engineering Sciences Inc., a Traverse City-based firm, then used humor, animation, and thought-provoking questions to get the participants—who came from Petoskey and Bear Lake and Resort Townships—to talk about what they treasure—and what they worry about—in their everyday lives. Although it was quite a broad gathering, with people from a city and two adjacent townships, many answers to those questions were surprisingly similar.

Again and again, participants brought up the same things they liked: the city’s popular bike path, views of the bay, the area’s rural character, the waterfront’s attractive streetscape, public transit for seniors, good road maintenance, and of course, the fact that there was no bypass.

And they also worried about many of the same things: big-box stores, rapid growth south of Petoskey, building heights, weak zoning enforcement, and summertime congestion.

Mary Ready, a retiree, said that Petoskey, like other cities that depend on tourists, walks a growth and development tightrope. Ms. Ready said that growth must not harm the environment and natural beauty that make Petoskey such a renowned tourist destination. 

Mary Ready: “People are coming here for a certain lifestyle, and by the numbers of people coming here, they destroy the very lifestyle they’re coming here to find. Then again, we also have to balance that against the fact that people also need places to work. Bike paths might not be important in Rochester Hills, but they sure as hell are here.  Everything that caters to tourists is important here because that is our bread and butter up here.”

As the evening wound down and the small groups wrapped up their sessions, they shared their work with the entire group. The upshot: Petoskey area residents see their community and quality of life as special, and want to make sure it stays that way.

Carlin Smith, the executive director of the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he liked the process. He was happy it was so inclusive and enjoyed the discussions he heard at the two-hour meeting. 

Carlin Smith: “I enjoyed people’s appreciation for scenic views and growth of our non-motorized pathways and bikeways that seems to be a sense of pride and that’s all good.  And I hope the people conducting the study hear that loudly and clearly and incorporate it into their plans.”

Sorting out the details is what the Corradino Group will do next. Company head Joe Corradino said he is optimistic that what citizens said at the meeting will help his group produce the best possible transportation plan.

“We’re really encouraged by the turnout at these meetings. It’s getting very exciting.”

The Corradino Group, which is based in Louisville, Kentucky, will summarize the comments from the meeting. Then its engineers and planners will come up with a series of different transportation designs—everything from more highways—that address those comments. The firm will then release a preliminary report in late May. There will be more community meetings in the summer, not only to look over the company’s different scenarios, but also to include seasonal residents in the process. Mr. Corradino says his firm will have a final Petoskey area transportation plan for the community to consider at the end of this year.

For the Great Lakes Bulletin News Service, this is Julie Hay.

Julie Hay is a policy specialist for the Michigan Land Use Institute. Reach her at julie@mlui.org.
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