2017-10-26 / News

On Mackinac Island, New Map Offers Insight for Land Use

By Jacob A. Ball

Mackinac Island’s Master Plan Steering Committee has developed drafts of a new land-use map that more clearly differentiates the primary types of properties, identifies pressures placed on the Island’s relatively scarce private land, and is to guide development in a way that will maintain the lifestyle of its vibrant, year-around community.

The up-to-date map is a crucial step in the planning process as leaders make decisions about the mix of year-around homes and the growing segment of residences that provide housing for seasonal employees of Island businesses. They sometimes coexist uncomfortably because the constant uptick in seasonal employee housing often is seen as an existential threat to the resilience of the local community.

Without a proper guide to land use, planning for the future of the community 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 use will provide a more accurate baseline for the future. Committee member Lorna Straus said she hopes this work will prove helpful to successive committees. Mrs. Straus and Barb Fisher are spearheading the land survey.

The previous map of existing land use had only one category, “residential,” for all housing, while the newly created map divides this category into four types: residential year-round, residential seasonal, employee housing, and condominium structure. Drafts of the map have been submitted for consideration during meetings of the committee on Tuesday, August 22, and Monday, October 9. One or more residents of each area checked all designations.

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-round 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 have not conducted such a comprehensive study and the lack of that made understanding the impact of development more difficult. Mrs. Straus said the process has been a lot of work, including continuous updates, but she hopes it will be a valuable resource when devising a new master plan.

The separate designation for condominiums initially was a point of contention. Building inspector Dennis Dombroski said the term ‘condominium’ only refers to ownership arrangements and has little to do with structure. There were suggestions they could be labeled ‘attached residential dwellings,’ but Mrs. Straus said it is easier to use ‘condominium’ than something more technical. The committee accepted her assertion, so 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. This information is useful because a key policy goal for the new master plan is promoting year-round housing downtown and in Harrisonville.

Along with maintaining a yearround community, historic preservation and environmental protection are central tenets of the master plan. The goals and polices laid out by the committee have been developed through research into existing community characteristics, interviews, and surveys. The findings have been used to determine 11 foundational planning principles that form the basis for future land use and zoning ordinance development.

Principle number two states: “Promote equitable, affordable housing with a range of housing opportunities and choices.” This goal is more realistic if the committee accurately understands the current housing stock. The map Mrs. Fisher and Mrs. Straus have developed provides that information and includes a chart that enumerates land uses by neighborhood.

Following the fundamental principles, the steering committee has developed a set of community goals and policies that will be used to devise an updated zoning ordinance for the City of Mackinac Island. The goals and policies are categorized as housing, transportation, planning and community development, history and culture, natural environment, public lands and recreation, and infrastructure and public services.

These policies will help to shape the next decade of development and regulation on Mackinac Island. For instance, one of the policies is to protect the neighborhood atmosphere of residential areas and support year-round residency. This could translate into zoning ordinances that limit mixed residential and multi-family housing in areas with a high number of single-family homes.

Consultant Adam Young of Wade Trim, an engineering and planning firm in Traverse City and Gaylord, now is developing a new future land use map, but still discussing with the committee how he should designate facilities such as the Mackinac Island Airport, Wawashkamo Golf Course, and Solid Waste Treatment Facility that are within the vast state park that covers most of the Island. He prefers simply labeling them and using accompanying notes to further explain them, rather than designating them with separate colors on the map. While no decision was made at the most-recent meeting, committee members didn’t object to that.

Completion of the existing and future land-use maps is the final major project in the development of the new master plan.

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