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Future visions

Master plan to be updated

MARQUETTE — Marquette County’s Master Plan will soon be getting a complete overhaul.

The Marquette County Board of Commissioners heard a presentation on the development of an overhauled Marquette County Master Plan from Eric Anderson, manager of planning at Marquette County’s Recreation, Planning, Community Development and Forestry Division, during the privileged comment session of Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

The master plan “is important in providing a vision for how the landscape of Marquette County will evolve over the next 20 years,” and will be used to evaluate zoning changes proposed by townships, apply for grants, support other initiatives in Marquette County and provide a basis for a work plan, according to board documents.

The new plan will divide the county into four distinctive regions and will be based around public input.

“We will be dividing the county into four regions, recognizing that Marquette County’s communities have unique identities,” Anderson’s letter to the board states. “Each of the four regions will have local champions with special knowledge of their area to help encourage community involvement.”

While the county master plan has been updated every five years in accordance with the Michigan Planning Enabling Act of 2007, Anderson said, the plan hasn’t been updated all at once since 1982.

“Over the last several years, we’ve updated individual pieces of the master plan and stayed on the five-year cycle, but that’s different than updating the entire plan at once and looking at it holistically, and the last time we did that was in 1982,” he said.

The letter from Anderson to the board states 1982 was a year of “great change in the county,” and they believe now is an appropriate time to give the plan a “complete overhaul, as the county seems to be on the brink of new changes.”

Anderson gave a short presentation to commissioners, looking back at the ways Marquette County, its economy and its demographics have changed since the last complete master plan overhaul took place in 1982.

“The master plan is about looking forward into the future for Marquette County and a reference point for that, is where we’ve been,” he said.

Many changes have occurred since 1982, Anderson said, noting the major changes include significant growth and development along the U.S. 41 corridor, the opening of the Eagle Mine, and the closure of K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base, along with the closure of the Empire and Tilden mines.

The year 1982 was a significant point in the county’s history, he explained.

“1982 was actually a very significant year in the county’s history, we had just peaked at our all-time population high of 74,000 people,” he said.

At that time, county planners expected the population to continue increasing.

“The planners at the time tried to project the population, they were pretty optimistic, they thought that it would be somewhere between 78,000 and 106,000 people by the year 2000, which would have made a very different landscape than what we have today,” Anderson said. “And instead, we have declined over that time to about 64,000 people (in 2000); we’ve recovered some of that since then, we’re around 67,000 today.”

However, the population in Marquette County and other Upper Peninsula counties can be difficult to predict, as population can be highly dependent on universities and prisons in the area, he said.

It’s also important to consider the aging population in Marquette County and all U.P. counties, he said, as the median age is over 50 in much of the U.P. and the death rate exceeds the birth rate in many areas.

When drafting up the new master plan, the changes in population demographics and their implications for the future are major considerations, Anderson said, as it’s likely that the aging population will have distinct needs in terms of housing and other resources.

Public input will be critical for the development of the new master plan, he said.

“We will try to connect to the public through a community survey, public forums throughout the county, a website, social media page and engagements with other organizations in the area, such as the Marquette County Townships Association,” the letter states.

The next step in developing the master plan is to begin collecting this public feedback, Anderson said.

“The first step, a notice of intent to plan, has already been approved for distribution by the planning commission,” he said in the letter. “The next step, already well underway, will be to complete the website and community survey for public rollout. We are excited to engage with the citizens of Marquette County.”

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