HOUGHTON - After several months of hearings, the Houghton County Board of Commissioners approved an update to the county's master plan at its meeting Tuesday.
By a 4-1 vote, the board approved the updated plan, which replaces the original 2006 document. The plan includes information on county land use, demographics, infrastructure, recreation and some economic data, as well as the latest development patterns, land fragmentation and historic preservation.
Guy St. Germain, chair of the Houghton County Planning Commission, which drafted the plan, said after the meeting he was pleased by the commissioners' vote, and thanked the planning commission for its work.
Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette
From left, Houghton County Controller Eric Forsberg and Commissioners Scott Ala and Anton Pintar listen to a speaker during the county board’s meeting Tuesday. The board approved the revision to the county’s 2006 master plan by a 4-1 vote.
"They did a great job putting this together," he said.
Board Chair Ed Jenich and Commissioners Scott Ala, Anton Pintar and Dennis Barrette voted for the plan. Commissioner Tim Palosaari cast the dissenting vote.
Had the board rejected the plan, the 2006 plan would have remained in effect. Commissioners would also have had to provide a reason for voting against the plan.
Palosaari said he was concerned about a section in the planning commission bylaws that allowed them to serve as a mediator in township zoning disputes. Commissioner Anton Pintar said that was dictated by the state Planning & Enabling Act. The township zoning maps are included in the master plan, he said, eliminating any conflict.
St. Germain said the planning commission had sent the plan to local townships, many of which provided feedback that was subsequently incorporated into the plan. In public comments, Chassell Township Supervisor David Matson said his township board was unanimously opposed to the plan because of concerns about local control.
The Houghton County Planning Commission approved the plan last month. Pintar, who also sits on the planning commission, recused himself from that vote because of state law barring votes on the same matter on two boards.
After several meetings where crowds had been small and almost uniformly in favor of the plan, Tuesday's comments were a 50-50 mix.
Glen Tolksdorf, a candidate for the board of commissioners seat in District 1, urged the board to send the plan back to the planning commission with the goal of making it more business-friendly.
"I took that plan, I gave it to a few corporations, and those corporations said, we'd rather go to Chippewa County, reading that plan," he said. "There's going to be too much conflict, too many people arguing, to have jobs possible in Houghton County."
Scott See, chairman of the Keweenaw National Historical Park Advisory Commission, said after being away for 15 years, he was happy to see the growth in businesses and communities, but was distressed by the loss of historical resources.
"What I think this master plan does is provide a good balance between continuing that growth that's occurred, and protecting what makes this place special for those of us that love it," he said.
Some in the audience expressed fears the master plan would erode townships' control over their own zoning. However, St. Germain said the master plan is solely a planning document.
"This document, this master plan, is a guidance document only," he said. "It has no mandated functions, it has no authoritative functions. ... It doesn't require compliance in any way. It is simply what one gentleman in the audience mentioned as something good businesses do. It's planning."