2017-12-09 / News

Master Plan Is Focused on Preserving Year-around Community

By Jacob A. Ball

Over the past several months, the Mackinac Island Master Plan Steering Committee has developed drafts of new existing and future land-use maps that more clearly differentiate the primary types of properties, illustrate the Island’s relatively-scarce private land, and are to guide development in a way that will maintain a vibrant, year-around community.

The committee also resolved questions regarding how to properly designate commercially-operated horse barns that don’t comply with the residential nature of Harrisonville and how to categorize the mixture of public and private land adjacent to Mission Point Resort.

An up-to-date map of current land uses is crucial for leaders making decisions about the mix of year-around homes and the growing segment of residences that provide housing for seasonal employees of Island businesses. These uses sometimes coexist uncomfortably because the constant uptick in seasonal employee housing often is seen as an existential threat to the community.

The new future land use map presents an idealized vision for Island development. Decisions about real estate designations and categories are important now because the map will assist in creating an updated zoning ordinance used regularly as a reference when there are requests for zoning changes and variances.

Without an accurate land-use guide, planning for the community’s future would be based on inaccurate perceptions, yet previous master plan committees failed to identify changes in the Mackinac Island housing market. By separating residential properties into multiple categories, the new map of existing land uses will provide a more accurate baseline. Committee member Lorna Straus, who is leading a land survey together with Barb Fischer, said she hopes that will prove helpful to successive committees.

The previous map of existing land use had only one category, “residential,” for all housing, while the newly map divides this category into four types: residential year-round, residential seasonal, employee housing, and condominium structure.

Perhaps the most important addition to the new land-use map is the separate designation for seasonal employee housing. Not listing all housing under a single heading makes it easier to recognize the impact of this housing on residential areas such as Harrisonville, where it has become a point of contention. According to research by Mrs. Straus and Mrs. Fisher, there are 78 year-around homes in the village. This is compared to 64 parcels occupied by seasonal employee housing, which includes 37 homes of fewer than three units and 27 of more than three units.

City Councilor Dennis Bradley said he believes this is exactly the type of information the committee needs. Previous steering committees didn’t conducted such a comprehensive study and the lack of that made understanding the impact of development more difficult, he noted. Mrs. Straus said the process has been a lot of work, including continuous updates, but she hopes it will be a valuable resource when the next master plan is devised.

An additional map of Harrisonville was removed from the latest draft Wednesday, November 15. Included as part of the future land use chapter, this map segmented the neighborhood into an area where additional seasonal employee housing would be permitted and another where it would not. The committee expressed concerns about promoting any future development of seasonal housing in Harrisonville. Mrs. Fisher, who lives in the village, was adamant that this map should be removed. Chairperson Anneke Myers said people who live there don’t want any more seasonal employee housing, so the committee didn’t want it to appear to be promoting it. She said the committee still endorses the development of additional year-around housing in Harrisonville.

The separate designation for condominiums initially was a point of contention as well. Building inspector Dennis Dombroski said the term ‘condominium’ only refers to ownership arrangements and has little to do with structure. An accompanying text will explain that this category refers to a type of property, not the ownership status. According to the research, there are nine condominium-style developments in the Mission district, three in Harrisonville, and six more in the Stonecliffe area.

Designating which dwellings are seasonal also provides a better understanding of housing patterns in various areas. For instance, the impact of seasonal units in the downtown area, from the Island public school to Fort Street, now is clearly seen: among 138 residential units, 22 are occupied year-round and 58 are employee housing, seasonal homes, and apartments.

Promoting year-round housing downtown and in Harrisonville is a key policy goal for the new master plan.

Harrisonville Barns

Creating a policy to best deal with the several commercial barns in Harrisonville was especially important to committee members who live in the area. The idea was to let the barns remain in operation, since they predate the new master plan, but not give them a designation that could lead to enlargement of their commercial operations in a way that would clash with their surrounding residential neighborhood.

The barns, which have operated in Harrisonville for many years, are a key part of the Island’s horse-drawn transportation and freight infrastructure. They include two barns owned by the Gough family, a barn used for horses and drays used by the Mackinac Island Service Company, and the barns and property of Mackinac Island Carriage Tours that occupy a considerable portion of the neighborhood.

Mrs. Myers said simply giving the barns a “commercial” designation could lead to undesirable development in the future.

“If we put all these barns to commercial on the future land use, then they would have an argument to… build from lot line to lot line,” she said.

The committee’s consultant, Adam Young of the WadeTrim planning and engineering firm, had designated the Carriage Tours barns commercial and the others as “mixed residential,” the designation used for all Harrisonville properties other than the Harrisonville General Store. Members accepted his suggestion that the barns be designated as commercial properties but with a master plan provision that prohibits them from undergoing high-impact commercial development.

Mission Point Development

During committee-held “stakeholder’ meetings, representatives from Mission Point Resort requested that the future land use map categorize all their property hotel-resort. A complication is that the city owns a large open yard along the shore, which is used by hotel guests, and the resort owns property along the roadside in the area that is used by the public.

Mr. Young’s newest draft of the map had given all those areas a hotel-resort designation. Several committee members were hesitant to accept that because the city owns part of the property and they wanted land across the street from the resort to remain available for recreation and as open space.

Mr. Bradley said, however, there is a limit to what the city can demand of private owners and Mr. Young said labeling private property in a way that calls for public use could be legally questionable. As a compromise, the committee settled on using the hotel-resort designation for an area stretching along the road from the resort’s tennis courts and other recreational facilities to the water filtration plant, but not the land closest to the shore.

Island resident Vicki Riel asked if that means the city is committed to preserving the shoreline and the open view of the water from Main Street/M-185.

“I’d like to see it remain open space,” said committee member Trish Martin.

The committee decided to classify it as shoreline-open space land. The area encompasses the city-owned lawn and the entire shoreline. The 18-hole putting course, the Greens of Mackinac, and their adjoining restaurant were designated at Recreation/Open Space. The Dennis O. Cawthorne Trail is not part of Mission Point Resort’s property either. Only a portion of this new shoreline/open space is owned by Mission Point, with the rest the property of the city and state.

Shoreline-open space, which can be used as a designation for both private and public properties, recognizes the area’s current use and has stricter zoning rules than for residential or commercial properties while still allowing for some development by Mission Point Resort.

The committee also designated Windermere Point as shorelineopen space land, although it’s owned by Mayor Margaret Doud and the Windermere Hotel. The point had been designated as commercial land, but was changed for consistency.

The Steering Committee plans to meet during the month of December to finalize a draft of the updated City of Mackinac Island Master Plan. The current draft was recently sent to the Planning Commission for review, as the commission will be regularly referring to the plan when drafting new zoning principles and considering special requests. The plan must be ratified by City Council before taking effect, but most likely many stakeholders will weigh-in before a final draft is approved.

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