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.