Lighthouse Park plan turned down

City planning commission votes

The Marquette Harbor Lighthouse nestles along the Lake Superior shoreline. The city of Marquette has been preparing to turn property adjacent to the lighthouse into a public park for over a year. On Tuesday, the Marquette Planning Commission denied approval of the proposed Lighthouse Park project after numerous neighboring residents expressed concern over the plan. (Journal file photo)

MARQUETTE — The Marquette Planning Commission in a split vote Tuesday night denied approval of the Lighthouse Park project even though the city commission will have the final say regarding whether the plan moves forward.

In January, the planning commission postponed the discussion for a month after numerous residents who live adjacent to the lighthouse property expressed concern over the proposed plan. Some were upset about the plan to eradicate Coast Guard Road and the lack of communication between city officials and residents.

Dennis Stachewicz, director of Marquette’s Planning and Community Development Department, said there have been several subsequent meetings among city staff and neighbors after the discussion was tabled in hopes of alleviating some concerns. Updates were made to the plan he said.

“Regardless of the planning commission decision tonight, we respectfully ask that you vote it up or down this evening because the bond has already been issued for it,” Stachewicz said. “Either way, the city commission gets a crack at it and they can decide whether they want to spend that bond money this year, otherwise we’ll have to transfer that money to another capital improvement project because it’s already spent.”

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.

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.

Sanders & Czapski Associates of Marquette was retained by the city to prepare a plan which was adopted by the city commission last year. 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 city commission then 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 as well as cutting down a couple 100-year-old trees.

Last month, neighboring residents received a letter about two weeks prior to the planning commissions meeting notifying residents that the planning commission was set to approve another plan with new schematics attached. The schematics included the relocation of a resident’s driveway in order to fit the bikepath in the area. However, neighbors in January noted that the rendering had not been attached.

City Planner Dave Stensaas apologized and said it was an accident that shouldn’t have happened.

Walt Anderson of Lakeshore Boulevard said the city should have sent out letters or a survey asking citizens for their input rather than trying to push the plan through.

“It’s just a feeling we have that our input has meant very little all the way along this process,” he said.

Marquette resident Matt Jones said he was disappointed in the city’s planning process.

“This landmark piece of property deserves better than this, the community deserves better than this,” he said.

Neighboring resident Lois Kampe agreed. Kampe, who’s lived off Coast Guard Road for decades, attended the meeting in January to express concern over the plan relocating her driveway. The updated plan shows the bikepath relocated outward so Kampe’s driveway would not be impacted if approved by the city commission. Still, Kampe said the development of the park will benefit tourists more than citizens and doesn’t think getting rid of the road and relocating the bike path is necessary.

Angeli, who was at the meeting to answer questions, said he felt betrayed by some of the comments. He said after talking to residents over the last month, he thought people were more comfortable with the plan.

“None of us wanted a bike path where it’s being proposed. We wanted it where the architect originally planned it to be, but SHPO said it wasn’t allowed because it was near the pump house, which they deemed historic,” he said. “It’s something we’d like your approval of and your understanding — just from the comments, it makes it sounds like we don’t care about the community … that’s not true.”

Planning Commissioner Bridgette Jaakola said it sounds like nobody is actually happy with what this park is going to be.

“This is such a unique piece of our history, it’s such a unique piece of property. Do we have to rush into it? I mean, how many people have taken a crack at the design?” she asked.

Angeli said there’s a push to get the project started because of the bond money.

“It has been borrowed for this particular purpose,” he said.

Several commissioners said the proposed parking lot, which would run along the shoreline, isn’t the best place for it because of erosion. Planning Commissioner Sarah Mittlefehdlt said the city should be thinking long-term, in the next 20 plus years, and how erosion would impact the parking lot.

The planning commission turned down the plan, with a suggestion that the city commission review the meeting notes so they know exactly where the planning commissions stands before a future vote is determined.

The planning commission also on Tuesday elected Joy Cardillo as chairwoman and Aaron Andres as vice chairman.