Esky planning commission gives report

ESCANABA — The Escanaba City Council heard an update on the city’s planning commission this week, including what the biggest struggles are for the advisory board responsible for zoning issues in the city.

The report itself highlighted the struggles the planning commission has had achieving goals in its master plan, which largely stem from a lack of cooperation and communication from other stake-holding groups in the community that are not under the umbrella of the city itself. However, Planning Commission Chair Patrick Connor noted that increasing the communication with the city council would help alleviate some of the issues facing the commission.

“It says that we were supposed to meet once a year. I think it should be at least once a month,” said Connor, who said that the summer months were the time the meetings are most needed.

The only other entity that was specifically discussed as a problem area for the city’s planning commission was the county’s planning commission. Connor was briefly appointed to serve as the city’s liaison to that board, but resigned after his first meeting.

“When I went to the first meeting I was just kind of rejected. I was told to just sit there, be quiet, don’t say anything. They read me the thing out of the new ordinance that says I’m not allowed to say anything unless spoken to, so I just sat there through the whole meeting,” he said.

Connor was replaced as the liaison by fellow Planning Commissioner Kasja Nelson.

“They talk to her. They wouldn’t talk to me. They must have been angry,” said Connor.

A review of the city’s master plan, which is the guiding document for land use decisions in the city, discussed in the report was addressed by City Manager Jim McNeil, who said the city has received a grant to review the document. A request for proposals was put out by the city through the American Planning Association, and a company that is believed to be highly qualified responded.

“Even though our old master plan is only from 2016, so much has changed in the world, so much has changed in the city; (it’s) certainly a pretty important process coming ahead of us,” said McNeil.

The report presented by Connor Thursday highlighted another concern for the city. Over the past year, five of the seven seats on the commission were filled with appointments after planning commissioners resigned.

Beyond the lack of consistency caused by the turnover on the commission, the commissioners themselves — including some who have served on the commission for extended periods — have struggled to meet quotas for training. Only two of the 12 commissioners, past and present, included in the report met their minimum training hour quota. Both individuals, Mark Sadowski and Roy Webber, are still with the commission.

Part of the problem with training is that attempts to hold training during meetings were squelched by more pressing business, like the influx of permits for recreational marijuana facilities and reviews of the city’s marijuana ordinance.

Connor, who has served on the commission for some time, said being a Certified Master Planner used to be a requirement. The program, managed by Michigan State University Extension, requires in-person classroom or online training in planning commission operations and zoning law through MSU Extension’s Citizen Planner program, a capstone presentation on a planning commission issue, and six hours of qualifying continuing education credits annually to keep the “Master Planner” designation.

“I don’t know why that’s not a thing anymore, being a Master Planner,” said Connor.

Escanaba Planning and Zoning Administrator Tyler Anthony explained that the planning commission’s bylaws do not include any penalties for planning commissioners who do not complete their training hours.

“You can have it in the local ordinance that if the training hours are not met then the person might be considered for removal, but that’s not in the local ordinance,” he said.

In other business the council

— Approved a series of chemical bids for the city’s water and wastewater treatment plants.

— Approved hiring Underwater Construction Corporation of Racine, Wis. to do a diving inspection of the city’s wastewater fallout. The city is not aware of any existing issues with the fallout.

— Approved compensating C2AE engineers and architects of Escanaba for additional engineering services related to the city’s Ludington Street and lift station project. The city expects the additional costs to be fully reimbursed through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund.

— Approved retaining C2AE for engineering services for the 30% base plans related to water infrastructure improvements that are set to take place during the Michigan Department or Transportation’s reconstruction of the US-2 corridor.

— Approved adopting an alternate schedule for the city’s budget workshops, which kick off Monday. The new schedule will allow city staff, council members, and any members of the public to attend the meetings but still be able to witness the solar eclipse Monday afternoon.


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