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Glenn Puit: Larry Merrill, Townships, and The Grand VisionPrint

Thriving Communities | April 28, 2009 | By Glenn Puit

Larry Merrill, executive director of the Michigan Townships Association.

The Grand Vision has had more citizen involvement - over 15,000 residents - than any other planning process ever conducted in this region, and has engaged environmental groups, business leaders and civic organizations. But one important group still has many questions about how the Grand Vision may affect them - the elected officials and planning commissions representing the region’s townships, cities, and villages.

On Thursday, April 30th, from 7:00 - to 9:00 p.m. at the NMC Hagerty Center in Traverse City, The Grand Vision is hoping to take an important step toward answering those questions. Larry Merrill, Executive Director of the Michigan Townships Association, will speak to those officials at a special meeting designed to recognize the unique role of local governments in implementing a regional land use and transportation vision.

Mr. Merrill represents 1,240 townships in Michigan, all of which have primary authority for planning and zoning, along with cities and villages, according to the state constitution. He understands that while each local government has autonomy, all must function within a broader region. What he and the Township Association likes about The Grand Vision is it’s focus on a “regional” plan that will help units of government make decisions together, with a bigger picture in mind, as part of a regional strategy.

“What is really different now is that…cities, villages and townships need to look outside their borders and consider what role they play in a broader regional system,” Mr. Merrill said. “That sounds almost banal, but it is a significant sea change for local governments and nationally. We have to be more strategic and recognize that how one area grows has an impact on broader regional areas. The region is the economic magnet as opposed to individual cities.”

Mr. Merrill also said the key to the Grand Vision will be the ability of local leaders to use it in a common sense, realistic way that balances community desires with the rights of property owners.

“One other piece we can’t deny is that there are private property rights, and the courts will always require a balance between a greater community good and individuals’ rights to develop their property as they see fit.”

In addition to hearing from Director Merrill, attendees at Thursday night’s meeting will have the opportunity to:

  • See the near-final draft of the Grand Vision document.

  • Learn results of a scientific, random-sample survey of voters to determine support for Vision principles.

  • Receive an update on consultant’s progress and deliverables on transportation planning and analysis.

  • Preview of a proposed structure for a public/ private collaborative partnership to implement the various aspects of the Grand Vision.

  • Participate in a question and answer session with Grand Vision partners and other local officials.

Attendees can register by either calling 231-929-5000 or by emailing deculman@nwm.cog.mi.us.

Members of the general public will be invited to see the final Grand Vision and hear much of this same information at a public unveiling on May 19th from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the State Theater in downtown Traverse City.