Cannon Township identifies condos, multi-family development as needed

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Undeveloped Town Square identified as most critical issue

 

By BETH ALTENA

 

Cannon Township Planning Commission spent an enlightening evening going over the township’s final version of the Five Year Master Plan which goes before the regular board at the next meeting for approval or changes. According to Paul LeBlanc, township planner, the document is significant in that it is now all one comprehensive piece, not a document scattered with ammendments.

In attendance were LeBlanc, Julie Lovelace, trustees Mike Warmbier, Steve Mulder, Chad Sosnowski, Jessica Leja and Michael Hanna. Absent was Dale Potter, and also absent was ? who resigned from the board due to changes in his schedule at work. There were four members of the public in the audience.

In opening with a prayers, Sosnowski asked for heavenly help in finding a new person to replace Wilcowski, an employment strategy that bears monitoring for success rate. Lovelace told commissioners that for the next few weeks the township will take applications prior to beginning the interview process.

Sosnowski described to the audience and fellow commissioners the importance of the master plan t the township and noted the commission and LeBlanc have been working on the document a year and a half.

“Michigan has a planning enabling act required to be used for zoning and it requires updating the Master Plan every five years,” presenter LeBlanc stated. “In many case when the review is done, things have changed.” He said this review follows the 2010 census, allowing the Plan to include updated demographics.

“One of the directives from the Planning Commission was to take several documents, update and include in the Master Plan, including what Cannon Township is and wants to be in the future. We looked at the vision statement and goals and the need to refresh that.” LeBlanc said he emphasized what he called “Motherhood and apple pie goals… that Cannon Township is a wonderful place to live, work and play. “Well, who can argue with that, but what exactly does that mean?” he asked the commissioners.

“The vision page plan was one and a half pages long, trying to be all things to all people. We had to get rid of words like beaucolic. This is a tranquil community, we want to keep it tranquil. Most of the township is still country.”

LeBlanc said the process included taking surveys from the public, creating four small focus groups representing different interests in the community. “Cannon is growing and will continue to grow. One thing we heard about is when the kids are gone and people become empty nesters, there is not much choice on where to live in the township except in a big house on two acres.”

“Why do peoplelive here?” LeBlanc asked. “In addition to being a natural wonderland, the school district and recreation opportunities, Cannon township is a great place that really doesn’t have an identity. We have a healthy environment with an emphasis on water resources.”

Mobility is the number one issue facing the township. “Unfortunately it is one of the things we have the least control of, they are under the jurisdiction of either the county or Michigan Department of Transportation. Connectivity is something we need to pay more attention to.” LeBlanc talked about plans to connect Cannon’s trail system to that of Ada, Courtland Township and the City of Rockford.

He also discussed future land use designation, including names of categories, which have changed some. Eighty to ninety percent of the township falls under low density designation. LeBlanc said the township wants to retain the perception of rural character. “We want to be able to drive down the road and see trees and farms, not rooftops.” He suggested the township consider creating new corridors so drivers on the roads here are not bumper to bumper.

Another section of the Master Plan specifically addresses the category of Lakes Residential. “Historically those were originally cottages rebuilt as homes.” He described Lakes Residential as very dense. “It is what it is. If that was raw land today we probably wouldn’t develop it like that.”

Neighborhood Residential is sewered development, typically moderate density, residential small areas now. “Because of public input we know we need to have more condos and multi-family homes.” LeBlanc said that space for such development is already existing in the Village Center across Meyers Lake Road and at Courtland south of M-44.

“There is no need for new commercial development. That can be built where the Ric’s grocery store is.”

Discussing Mixed Use Development, LeBlanc again pointed to the Village Square at Ric’s Food Center, 6767 Belding Road. He also pointed to the Village of Cannonsburg as possible site of Mixed Use Development. He said lack of sewer is a deterrent to this type of development and said Honey Creek Inn has to have their sewer pumped regularly because of restaurant waste.

He said development along the Belding Road corridor is “hit or miss.” “There are some good businesses, like Bostwick Lake Inn, and some that are, quite frankly, eyesores.” He said the township should look for ways to make the corridor more attractive.

Finally the Master Plan discussed the Industrial category. “Now, frankly, the township is not a good fit for industry. We don’t have access, we don’t have sewer.

Next was the category of Public and Quasi-Public development. “This is almost a contradiction, these people want to move here for the country life, a slower lifestyle, but each person takes a little of that, adds to the traffic on the road.”

Master Plan coverage of Character Areas include the Village Center, as well as the Village of Cannonsburg. LeBlanc said, “Cannonsburg is not an area where we want a lot of growth. There could be small houses on small lots in a neo-traditional development style.” Other Character Areas were identified as Bostwick Lake corridor and Silver Lake Golf Course. LeBlanc wrapped up his presentation by describing the next steps in approval of the Master Plan. He said it needs to be approved by the Planning Commission before being presented to the regular board for adoption.

Sosnowski said the work on the Master Plan was not taken lightly and represents a year and a half of work. He said he was surprised by learning that Cannon Township needs places for people who are starting to age to live. “My mom is looking for a place to live in Cannon Township and there aren’t options.” He said the township also has to come up with solutions to the problem of lack of sanitary sewage treatment.

Warmbier also commented on the Master Plan and noted that the work included 18 months, and ten planning commissioners due to turnover. He said at the start of the process only two of the present commissioner were seated, himself and Sosnowski.

Steve Mulder observed that the Master Plan doesn’t talk about Agriculture, recognizing the farming atmosphere or preserving farmland. LeBlanc told him preserving farmland has never been a goal in Cannon Township. “We don’t have great farms here,” he stated. He pointed to Grattan Township as a more agricultural community. “If a farmer wanted to come in here and farm there is nothing to prohibit that. If you look at a map of the township you’ll see there is no one big area that is farmland.”

Sosnowski added, “There was a lot of discussion of being a rural community. Cannon is not really a rural community anymore. That is more associated with the surrounding townships.”

Mulder also brought up the Lakes category. “The Master Plan mentions the lakes, but there is very little public access to the lakes. Is there any consideration of providing more public access?” LeBlanc said it may be that the Parks and Recreation committee might be looking into that but at least one of the lakes, Bella Vista, has made it clear they will allow no public access.

Someone else asked about the Village Square development adjacent to Ric’s Food Center. “Rob Scott from Pendulum bought it and had the site plan from the previous owner. He had incentives in front of him but he’s not taking advantage of it. I don’t think he intends to now.”

Sosnowski stated, “I don’t think there is any bigger need in the township [than to get that development going]. Not a day goes by that we don’t get calls.”

The Cannon Township Master Plan was moved and seconded for approval and will now go under consideration by the Board of Trustees.

 

 

Home born of lumber-era riches hits market, represents vanished Englishville

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Few tangible remains represent once bustling community

 

By BETH ALTENA

 

An illiterate Londoner escaping bad business in his hometown changed his name on the long passage by boat to America, struck out from New York ports to cross the wilds of untamed early United States to settle in Sparta, Michigan and eventually control all of the saw mills and lumber industry on the Rogue River.

Today that man’s home is one of few remnants of the once busy town that grew around himself and his business dealings, which once included a store, post office, school, train station, cemetery and more. It is for sale at 693 Ten Mile Road, with much of the original structures and construction intact and speaking of a lost era of wild wealth to be had logging on the rivers of Michigan and supplying the frenzied growth of Chicago and beyond.

More than a hundred and seventy years after Joseph Simpson fled London, much remains a mystery. What were the bad business dealings that drove him to escape to American wilderness? Why did he and his wife, Diana Bird, take three children (William, Joseph Jr., and Richard or Joseph Jr., Richard) with them but leave two (Abraham, 10 and Dinah, 9) behind in England? How did his booming logging empire collapse, causing him to turn the business over to Richard, who also saw the lumbering fortune continue to dwindle to nothing?

Some records and memories remain. Joseph Simpson was called “English” on the passage to America, and upon arrival called himself Joseph English. He and his wife brought with them $15,000 he earned in England as a master mechanic and by selling property. He began lumbering, but ran into trouble here, too, and soon lost all his money.

In 1846 he resorted to work as a shingle cutter, working from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m., shaving 5,000 shingles a day and earning $1 per 1,000 shingles. He worked hard and with perseverence and acquired land by credit or by trading horses and wagons, according to a newspaper article. He eventually owned most of two sections in Sparta Township and two in Alpine Township. Each section is 640 acres. In 1847 he and Diana had another son, Edward)

The articles say that in 1855 he built a steam sawmill in Alpine Township (on Mill Creek?) which burned to the ground in 1856. According to relatives, he then turned to Laphamville (later to become the City of Rockford) for his next business ventures, lumbering and doing well.

By building, purchasing and renting mills up the length of the Rogue River, he eventually controlled all the logging on the Rogue. Men came to work for him. Logging was a grueling, dangerous job that paid $1.50 a day and by law required “men to work from daylight until dark, time for dinner excepted.” (According to Logging Rules for Log Running on the Rogue River for the Year 1884)

As men came to work for English and in other jobs in the growing area, English sold them land and a thriving village of Englishville soon grew up around him. He built his spectacular and unusual home in 1880, where it stands today, along with additions and outbuildings dating to the same era. The lumber and original granite foundation speak of a time when wood was plentiful and cut to proportions not seen today. Some original cabinetry with hardware remain in storage and in the home, as well as original wavy glass windows, many still in use in the home, others boarded over in the barns.

By 1901 the logging business had tapered off. The nearby Village of Sparta began to flourish as Englishville faded. In 1926 the post office closed, signaling the death of the community. Reports speculate that son Richard, who married Caroline E. French, of Rockford, in 1879, was the reason the English lumber empire finally thrived for many years before the decline of lumber prices caused the last lumber run from the family business in 1901. Richard, known as Dick, helped the employees of this lumber work find new livelihoods and was generous with land and assistance. He stayed in the Ten Mile home until his death.

According to Gregory Simmons, Berkshire Hathaway realtor handling the sale of the home, the property has had only four owners since the English family. Anyone who has driven Ten Mile on the way to Alpine Avenue has surely noticed the unusual structure and wondered at its origin. Simmons said the first open house last fall “was crazy.” He said people were all over, looking into the barns and all over the three-story home. Many said they were always curious about the home and just wanted to look around.

Much has changed since the original home was built and much of its splendor is paneled over or covered by drop ceilings, necessary alterations to allow for plumbing and electricity. At one point the barns were used as a dairy operation and a farmworkers apartment was added to the rear of the house.

The symmetry and grandiose of the structure remains, although hidden. Simmons speculates it could be renovated and restored to be used as a unique bed and breakfast or could be an amazing wedding venue. Surely the history of the home is an asset in itself. It is mentioned in the earliest reports of travelers to Kent County, when few settlers wrestled with the untamed terrain and inhabitants. An account of Englishville on the internet describes the plight of travelers attempting to reach the home from Comstock Park and eventually having to camp overnight, sleeping next to a log and a fire as wolves howled from the woods around them.

The wolves are long gone, as is Englishville and the days of getting rich from the plentiful forests of Michigan’s wilderness, but this piece of history remains.

 

 

 

Correction to Sandmining operation story in last issue

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Cannon Township will be hosting their annual Waterfest event at Townsend Park

  Cannon Township will be hosting their annual Waterfest event at Townsend Park (8280 6 Mile Rd Cannonsburg) on Saturday, April 25, 2015, from 8:00am-12:00pm. A pancake breakfast will be hosted by the Cannonsburg Village Christmas Light Committee at 8:00 a.m. The Cannon Township Historical Society will be selling baked goods. The feature event this […]

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When Kids Don’t Want to Read

Do you have kids who compare having to read to getting shots at the doctor’s office? Sometimes we have to creatively adjust this attitude with new ideas, providing motivation and modeling to encourage our kids to become lifelong readers.   As parents, we are responsible for assisting our kids with tasks they don’t necessarily find […]

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