Firm works on county master plan

ESCANABA — The Delta County Planning Commission heard a presentation from representatives of OHM Advisors — a firm the county hired to provide consulting services as it works to update its master plan — Monday.

OHM’s presence at the commission meeting was part of an ongoing visit, which began Monday. Earlier that day, the representatives of OHM visiting the area took a tour of the county facilitated by Delta County Administrator Philip Strom.

“Thank you for the tour today — I think I spent 10 hours in the car so far today, but it was very interesting,” Senior Planner Christine Spitzley said.

Spitzley started OHM’s presentation with a look at the firm and the services it provides.

“We’re architects, we’re engineers and we’re planners, and our best-case scenario is when we can bring all three of those talents together,” she said.

OHM is partnering with the Central Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Regional Commission for the master plan project.

“We will be working with them throughout. They will kind of be the local boots on the ground, and we will be up here intermittently and we will also be meeting with you virtually,” Spitzley said.

Planner Marguerite Novak gave the planning commission a broad overview of master plans. She noted these are not zoning ordinances, subdivision regulations, budgets or capital improvement plans; instead, they are meant to serve as a framework for the development of these tools.

“(It’s) a blueprint for the next 10-20 years,” Novak said.

According to Novak, the primary components of a master plan are a future land use plan, guided capital improvements strategies and a policy framework.

Novak spoke about OHM’s schedule for the project. She said Phase One, which focuses on launching the project and gaining public engagement, began on April 1 and will continue through Oct. 1.

“This includes our kickoff, which is … our three-day visit here,” she said.

OHM’s visit to Delta County will continue today with a series of focus group interviews and a roundtable of local elected leaders. Another focus group interview has been scheduled for Wednesday.

Project communication systems will be established, mapping data and relevant plans will be assembled and a community survey will be developed and launched as part of the project’s first phase, as well.

The project’s second phase, which is set to begin in October 2019 and continue through April 2020, will focus on analyzing information collected in Phase One, developing the master plan and presenting the plan for final approval.

Novak also informed the planning commission of its role in efforts to develop Delta County’s master plan.

“You’re sort of the overseers of the master planning process,” she said. In this capacity, commission members will guide the master plan’s development, serve as “stewards” of the plan and the development process, provide insight based on their own experiences and represent community members.

Novak also shared data on national trends which could be relevant to the project. This included information related to demographics, housing preferences, the economy and urban form across the country.

“Everything may not pertain to Delta (County),” Novak said. As part of the planning process, work will be done to determine current trends in the county and see how these compare to national trends.

Spitzley said OHM is looking forward to working on Delta County’s master plan.

“We’re really excited about it — we think you have an incredible set of resources here and an incredible amount of opportunity,” she said.

In other business, the commission:

– granted a property owner in the Flat Rock area a conditional use permit to create a parcel of less than five acres.

– granted Escanaba Area Public Schools a conditional use permit to use the former Wells School building as a recreational facility. Northern Lights YMCA, one of the bidders for the building, intends to use it for various programs and activities if their bid is successful.

– received an update from Delta County Building and Zoning Administrator Dan Menacher on a request from Heritage Sustainable Energy to extend conditional use permits for its work on the Garden Peninsula. Heritage withdrew its request last month, and the commission took no further action on the matter Monday.