City planners postpone park discussion

Dave Stensaas, Marquette City Planner

MARQUETTE — The Marquette Planning Commission in a split vote Tuesday postponed its discussion of the Lighthouse Park project until its Feb. 5 meeting.

After the city was deeded the lighthouse property, which overlooks the Lower Harbor, from the U.S. Coast Guard in 2016, the city started planning to turn it into a public park. The project is estimated to cost between $1.6 and $2.3 million, city documents state.

Last year, the Marquette City Commission voted in favor of reallocating $1 million into a fund for the project to begin this spring. The money was initially to be spent on reconstructing College Avenue.

City Manager Mike Angeli directed staff to begin implementing the plan, with the first phase consisting of realigning a multi-use pathway, extending Arch Street and transportation improvements to the new park and the Marquette Maritime Museum.

Nearly 20 concerned citizens attended the meeting Tuesday, some who have lived for over 50 years along Coast Guard Road — a dirt road adjacent to the lighthouse and museum properties.

Many were upset they were only given a 19-day notice regarding a site plan that was expected to be voted on by the planning commission.

“I’m addressing the planning committee tonight to express concerns related to the communication, or lack thereof, in regard to the Lighthouse Park project,” said Matt Jones, a Lakeshore Boulevard resident.

Jones said he and his neighbors were aware of a plan last spring and they agreed it was “pretty good,” but that in the fall they learned the plan had changed. He said he tried to find the new plan on the city’s website but it only had the original plan listed.

“A week prior to Christmas, a letter was sent out to residents who live near this property,” Jones said. “The letter claimed a new schematic was enclosed, but it was not.”

Jones, along with everyone else who spoke during public comment, asked the commission to table the item for 30 days, or until the commission heard further input from the community.

One resident, whose driveway would be relocated if the plan is approved, said it doesn’t make sense.

“I live on the corner of East Michigan and Coast Guard Road,” Lois Kampe said. “I have lived here for 53 years and need the road to access my home, and no, the driveway suggested by the city on the north side of my house is not the answer when my entrance is on the east side.”

Kampe also asked that Mayor Fred Stonehouse refrain from making any decisions on the project, as he is the president of the Maritime Museum Board of Directors and believes it to be a conflict of interest.

Walt Anderson of Lakeshore Boulevard said the current flow of traffic works well and eradicating Coast Guard Road would disrupt that.

“We have a well working traffic pattern that allows traffic to move freely and out of the Michigan and Arch Street because of the Coast Guard Road,” he said. “Presently, traffic cooperates with each other, cars and pedestrians, because of the width and shape of Coast Guard Road.”

The first draft of the multi-use path closely resembled the rendering in the adopted plan, city notes state. However, the State Historic Preservation Office, or SHPO, rejected the plan as it would have required the demolition of the abandoned sewage pump house.

“The hurdles that we ran into were dealing with the State Historic Preservation Office that’s taken a considerable amount of interest into a somewhat dilapidated pump house,” said Dennis Stachewicz, director of community development. “We wanted to see if we could possibly relocate it to fit the bike path in there. After that, we ran into issues with a couple 100-year-old oak and pine trees.”

The city commission held a work session with city staff last fall to determine where the multi-use pathway should be placed after SHPO said the original plan couldn’t be done. Staff had also been told that the rock outcropping between the former station house and storage barn was off limits.

“This did go through a lengthy public process, a plan was developed and a plan was subsequently endorsed by the city commission, but I think we failed to do a decent job at educating the community abut how plans and planning implementation work out,” Stachewicz said.

Stachewicz said the public could have addressed any issues during four meetings and that the decision was a timely matter since the city received a grant for the project which is carried into next year. However, in an email today, Stachewicz said the city just found out the $375,000 grant has fallen through.

City Planner Dave Stensaas apologized that the new draft wasn’t included with the letter.

“We gave notice and I apologize for the error of not having the schematics included. It’s inexcusable, but it happened,” Stensaas said. He said the city is not required to notify the public of a normal site plan. “Keep in mind that a normal site plan, there is no public notice for a typical site plan. Things where we’re changing the law, there’s a 15-day notice.”

Stensaas reminded the planning commission that its job is to consider the location, character and extent of the proposed public improvements and if they are consistent with other plans and guidance.

“We’re in a tough place here because technically what we’re looking at … according to what the planning commission is supposed to do, there is nothing wrong with it (the plan). But then we hear you all hate it,” said Planning Commissioner Brigette Jaakola. “This is a sacred rock in a hard place to be honest with you.”

Commissioner Erick Brooks said a lot of problems could be solved by going around the rock, realigning the bike path and keeping Coast Guard Road. Many in the audience nodded their heads in favor of the idea.