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Planning Commission schedules special meeting to kick off Lakeshore Drive process

Planning Commission will hold a special meeting in two weeks to start the road that will lead to recommendations on a future process for the city to follow in deciding on the future of the big deck area on Lakeshore Drive.

After unveiling a plan for a $40 million mixed-use development, Marquette-based The Veridea Group withdrew from negotiations over the city over concerns the city did not have a defined process laid out for how to proceed.

At its most recent meeting, the City Council voted to have the Planning Commission review the year-and-a-half-long process and make a recommendation.

Councilman Mike Needham, who also sits on the Planning Commission, said the nature of what the recommendation would entail, and the time frame, was purposefully left open-ended.

“I really wanted it to come back to the Planning Commission,” he said. “Whether or not we all agree, I think that the nine of us are a really good group to step back and look at what’s going on over the past year and a half, and see if we can get things moving forward again.”

In December, Planning Commission member Kristine Bradof had discussions with Michigan State University and the National Charette Institute, which put together a preliminary proposal for a process going forward.

“It’s not the only one to be considered, but I figured it’s good to at least get something to react to and then see what we like and what we don’t like,” she said.

Charettes are a “compressed planning process” in which stakeholders can give input and create a framework for moving forward, Bradof said. Sault Ste. Marie has used them, Bradof said. Design charettes with local skaters and skate park designer Spohn Ranch were also used to determine features at Houghton’s skate park.

With interest in development downtown, it would make sense to come up with a plan for the entire downtown, not just the parking deck, Bradof said.

“Let’s get some guidelines in place and have kind of a level playing field so everybody knows what the vision is,” she said.

MSU had proposed a process starting with defining the issues, taking input from anyone with something to say, then establishing a committee to move forward that would be in touch with the Planning Commission, Bradof said.

Needham suggested maintaining a distinction between the idea of a public works project such as a park or deciding on a use for property that already has something on it.

“In my mind, what we’re concerned with is maintenance of some existing property, and whether or not we consider developing that property with a developer,” he said.

Commission member Michelle Jarvie-Eggart suggested tying the city’s plan to information from a land bank authority on properties that could be marketed to developers.

To get more feedback on its plan, the city could also update two or three chapters each year, Jarvie-Eggart said.

“Because we looked at it chapter by chapter, it really gave the public time to read it and attend meetings and give us good feedback,” she said. “I think the standalone chapters had a lot more meat to them as a result.”

Getting public response is “reasonable and wise,” Jarvie-Eggart said.

“The last thing any of us wants is to be proposing things where folks feel their only recourse is lawsuits or that they have to come to us after the fact,” she said.

“To our advantage, we have an incredible public record of comments from the past year, that’s for sure,” Needham said.

The special meeting was tentatively set for 5:30 p.m. Feb. 9.

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