2017-03-16 / Front Page

St. Ignace To Seek Redevelopment Ready Designation

By Erich T. Doerr

The St. Ignace City Council received an update about the work of the city’s Planning Commission at its Monday, March 6, meeting, and Planning Commission Chair Betsy Dayrell-Hart received approval from the council to pursue making St. Ignace a certified “Redevelopment Ready Community.”

Dr. Dayrell-Hart gave the board her annual report on the commission’s work, noting in 2016 it worked on major ordinances related to housing and signs. The housing ordinance was approved last fall with the planning commission ready to help with the development of a fee structure if needed. The commission is also working on a new master plan for the city. Dr. Dayrell- Hart said many of the commissioners have been continuing their education in the field of late so they are more knowledgeable on the topic of planning.

Dr. Dayrell-Hart asked the council if it is interested in having the commission work to make St. Ignace a more Redevelopment Ready Community as certified by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation in an effort to attract more developers to do business in the area. The title would also open up new grant opportunities for St. Ignace. The process will begin with the city doing a self assessment.

The council approved pursuing the certification. Councilmember Steven Paquin said much of the work to get the certification is easy, such as posting the city’s zoning ordinance online and making sure its content matches with the master plan. The goal, Dr. Dayrell-Hart said, is to offer fast and easy access to information that would help potential businesses get necessary permits.

A draft of the sign ordinance continues to be worked on. The commission is now looking at the options for off-premise signs and billboards. One proposal is for large signs to require a new permit if they change owners. Councilmember Jim Clapperton said re-permitting signs could be a good idea to prevent any new ownership from trying to “reinvent the wheel” after their acquisition. A grace period could be put in place for sign owners to fix non-confirming signage, with Dr. Dayrell-Hart noting five years is the standard.

The city’s billboard policies haven’t been strictly enforced, and councilmen noted they’ve talked to people in town who say they don’t plan to follow them unless they have some teeth. The council would like to see more enforcement in the future.

Councilmember Jay Tremble wants to see more prominent signage developed to promote the presence of businesses on Ferry Lane. Dr. Dayrell-Hart responded they are working to make that area more of a business corridor with the development of the master plan. The commission spoke with a Michigan Department of Transportation official about signage, and learned that a sign pointing to some general locations like “restaurants” or “businesses” would be allowed, while ones for specific businesses like Fred’s Pub or George’s Body Shop would not.

Development of the master plan is on track as the commission is creating maps and gathering demographic information about the area. The completed master plan should be ready for approval in the spring or summer of 2018. The commission will be using two upcoming events, the job fair and the home show, to survey attendees about what they want from the city.

Mr. Clapperton raised concerns Monday about the city’s enforcement of its ordinances after they are passed. He specifically questioned the recent zoning work, saying the city needs to define what its new building inspector Brian Olsen’s role will be in enforcing the policies, and he wants to see plans in place for following through on policy decisions. Mayor Connie Litzner said the city will clarify what Mr. Olsen will be doing. Mr. Clapperton said the city would likely need to hire another person to assist with enforcement measures in the future.

City Manager Les Therrian said Mr. Olsen is handling the city’s enforcement of the recent rental housing ordinance, while executive secretary Helen Thibault is handling zoning permits. There is not much enforcement of zoning going on beyond permit work at the moment. Police Chief Mark Wilk added he would also like to see ordinance enforcement stepped up, specifically that relating to blight.

The meeting ended with a discussion between local resident Robert Coxe and the board about a $400 charge on his water bill. While he was out of town, he said, a toilet in his house was mistakenly left running, and it ran for 10 straight days while unattended. Mr. Coxe has already paid the bill, but asked if it would be possible to have some of the cost forgiven, given the accidental nature of the water use. The council was sympathetic to the mistake, but said there was nothing it could do. Mayor Litzner noted that granting leniency in his case would not to be fair to others, as the city has always billed in prior similar cases and would likely have people coming back asking to paid back if they excused his issue. Mr. Therrian said the city always bills for water that enters into its sewer system.

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