Planning Commission OKs site review for cabins, boardwalk

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Derek Bradway of Keweenaw Waters and George Kiiskila of UP Engineers & Architects discuss proposed cabins and a boardwalk during the Houghton Planning Commission meeting Tuesday.

HOUGHTON — The Houghton Planning Commission approved site plans for cabins and a boardwalk on land along Houghton Canal Road at its meeting Tuesday.

The Keweenaw Waters Resort plans call for 48 units and 100 parking spots. The site plan for the proposed neighboring RV Park and utilities was approved by the planning commission in December.

Most of the discussion hinged on the requirement for trees. Keweenaw Waters’ proposal called for 10 trees in movable planter units in the parking area. That was done to facilitate snow removal and to sidestep the difficulty of maintaining trees in a location with frequent road salting in winter, owner Derek Bradway said.

Following suggestions from City Manager Eric Waara and Commissioner Kristine Bradof, Bradway agreed to meet the tree requirement by planting trees at the base of the hill closer to the waterway. That could help act as a buffer for erosion, Bradof said.

The site plan approval for the boardwalk is contingent upon a special use permit. A hearing request was set for the February meeting.

Waara reported on a presentation he attended Tuesday on the draft of Michigan Technological University’s master plan. Tech is anticipating growing the population to 10,000 — 8,000 undergrad and 2,000 graduate students — by 2045. A draft is available at campusmasterplan.mtu.edu.

“If Michigan Tech is going to grow, Houghton is going to have to grow with them,” Waara said. “This goes back to some of the things I was talking about in the spring, things the Planning Commission is going to have to look at, whether it’s zoning changes, properties in the city — how do we accommodate more people?”

One potential solution came from property owner Jon Lehtinen, who petitioned the commission to rezone the south side of east Houghton Avenue to allow for denser development. The span between Agate Street and Townsend Drive would be changed from R-1 (single-family) to R-3 (multi-family). He owns a six-bedroom home on Houghton Avenue which has space to accommodate two more bedrooms. The north side of the street includes a mix of R-3 and R-4.

“To our knowledge there are currently only two houses, our purchase being one of them, along that entire span which are not already rentals,” he wrote to the council. “I own the duplex homes on either side of this subject property, and both of those are grandfathered-in for rental occupancy.”

Lehtinen also owns the duplexes on either side of the property. At Tuesday’s meeting, Lehtinen also said he would add parking behind the duplexes, which would get more vehicles off Houghton Avenue.

Two letters in support came from nearby property owners. Robert Sundstrom said the rezoning would reflect the current makeup of the area. Creating more space for rent close to Michigan Tech would also help maintain the character of single-family neighborhoods further away from campus, he said.

Commissioners said they would revisit the issue at the commission’s February meeting and discuss the potential boundaries of the rezoning.

As part of the ongoing discussion about the Lakeshore Drive parking deck, the commission discussed a potential timeline for removal. The city council voted in July for the city to begin the parallel processes of planning for the deck’s teardown and whatever might replace it.

Waara said if pushed to choose an ideal time for a teardown, he would choose after Labor Day this year. He said he had had discussions with MEDC about potentially leveraging grant funds for removing the deck.

Urban planner Pat Coleman will present a written report to the city council at its first February meeting. Coleman led two public sessions last fall where the public developed ideas for what they wished to see happen with the deck site.

The commission also:

– Named five sites to be designated through the Michigan Economic Development Corp’s Redevelopment Ready program. They are a laundromat property on Montezuma Avenue, the Lakeshore Drive parking deck property, the city center, the Wells Fargo deck and the Ambassador deck. The designation will make the sites higher-priority for MEDC in promoting the sites for redevelopment.

– Scheduled a public hearing on Feb. 22 for a special land use permit for Tranquility Fields at 1301 Ridge Road, the former location of Bambu. The company wishes to open a recreational marijuana shop. The commission previously approved a request from another company at the site last year, but the project appeared to have fallen through, Waara said.

– Appointed officers at the start of the meeting. Tom Merz was appointed chair, Bill Leder vice-chair and MIchele Jarvie-Eggart secretary. The terms begin in February.


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