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Glenn Puit: Give Emmet an ‘A’Print

Thriving Communities | March 19, 2009 | By Glenn Puit

We are sending out some kudos this week to Emmet County for the very impressive Comprehensive Plan its board of commissioners approved last month.

The Michigan Land Use Institute has followed the development of Emmet’s Comprehensive Plan closely for the last year, and hoped it would provide a framework for smart, thoughtful land use there. We are pleased to report that the final product, produced under the guidance of the Emmet County Planning Department and local volunteers, outlines excellent strategies not only for land use, but also for farmland preservation and environmental conservation.

"We are proud of the collaboration that went into making the Emmet County

Master Plan our guiding document for the future," said Tammy Doernenburg, assistant director of planning and zoning for Emmet. "The plan focuses on protecting our natural resources and promoting the quality of life we value in Emmet County.

“It guides us toward the exploration of alternative energy, the cooperation between units of government, the advancement of technological resources, and the promotion of mixed-use and in-fill developments,” she added.

While public input for the plan was lacking at times, the final product is solid. For example, it recognizes that growth patterns in Emmet County over the last 40 years strongly favored rural townships over community centers. The numbers are plain: In 1960, 47.6 percent of county residents lived in community centers such as Petoskey and Harbor Springs. By 2000 that number had dropped to 24.3 percent; if present trends continue, it will drop to 18.5 percent by 2010.

Meanwhile, growth in townships is expanding, and the average size of farms in Emmet is dropping. Bear Creek Township is projected to grow from 6,782 to 8,730 people by 2010. By that same date, Pleasantview Township is projected to grow from 2,020 to 4,326, more than doubling; Littlefield Township from 2,464 to 3,039; and Little Traverse Township from 3,021 to 3,763.

The document also reports that the average farm size in Emmet has dropped from an average of 178 acres to 159 acres in recent years.

In the face of such troubling growth patterns, the plan puts forth clear, definable guidelines that aim to protect and preserve natural resources and agricultural lands and direct most new growth to community centers. In fact, the plan’s goals and objectives strive to “encourage land use patterns and development that reinforce and improve the quality of life, while maintaining the rural character,” and to “provide for land uses based on demonstrated need.”

In addition, the county has committed in the plan to using land preservation rules such as the transfer of development rights, home clustering, mixed use development, and zoning to “encourage higher density residential, commercial and industrial development in areas with minimal environmental impact.”

As far as comprehensive plans go, that’s good stuff. The plan, now formally adopted by the county, is very important to Emmet’s future because it is supposed to guide how the county handles future growth. With a solid plan in place, residents of Petoskey, Harbor Springs, and surrounding areas will have more control of growth in their communities.

Now, the county is moving on to another important project: updating its zoning ordinance to match the comprehensive plan. We’ll track that endeavor in the coming months. Meanwhile, we encourage you to contact the county planning department to offer your input and even your time to help update the zoning ordinance.

Glenn Puit is a county policy specialist for the Michigan Land Use Institute. Reach him at glenn@mlui.org.