By Pat Maurer
For the first time in many years, a joint meeting of the Clare Planning Commission and the Clare City Commission was held January 8.
City Clerk Diane Lyon said she couldn’t recall a joint meeting other than ones held specifically for the Clare Railroad Depot project and Industrial Park plans.
The joint meeting was called, “a great opportunity to discuss a number of important topics of mutual interest and benefit of both governmental entities and the City as a whole,” by Clare City Manager Ken Hibl in his report at the January 6 meeting.
Four members of the Planning Commission and four City Commissioners attended the meeting, which included the Planning Commission’s annual report to the City board.
Traffic safety for students crossing McEwan Street at Wheaton Avenue was an item of concern, but since McEwan is controlled by the Michigan Department of Transportation, they control changes such as traffic lights, street signs and signals.
City Attorney Jaynie Hoerauf was also at the meeting to answer any questions. Answering a question about the potential of “big box” stores coming to the Colonville property, she said “the health, welfare and safety of the community are the first and foremost considerations in developing a Master Plan.”
Large commercial development will fall under City standards developed several years ago. If a large retailer does consider locating in the City, a staff site plan will be held, both commissions will be notified and the Planning Commission would conduct a site plan review and either approve or disapprove it. “Big box stores cannot be treated differently than any other commercial business.”
Another topic at the meeting was code enforcement with the limited budget constraints. The city no longer has a full-time Code Enforcement Officer, and since the position was eliminated, violations have “blossomed overnight.” The consensus was that the City needs a full-time enforcement officer.
Designating the downtown area as a Federal Historical District is a project for Clare resident Ken Lingaur, a student at Easter Michigan University who is researching and completing an application for Clare to apply for historic designation. Lingaur, who is pursuing a Master’s degree in historical preservation, has taken on the project as part of this master’s degree thesis. The project has taken about two years, so far at a minimal cost to the city.
If obtained the historical designation would “put us on the national map,” Lion wrote in the meeting minutes, “and provide an opportunity for downtown business owners to receive state and federal tax credits when they do renovations and improvements.”
Another discussion item at the joint meeting was possible future uses for the downtown Consumers Energy Site.
Consumers has purchased twenty acres of land from the City and will build a new station in the new Clare Industrial Park North on Colonville Road, with completion scheduled for 2015.
Some of the ideas discussed for the old facility include a community center, a senior living center, condominiums and a youth center. The site, which is contaminated, would be usable once a Phase I and II environmental assessment and background is completed and if the soil at the site is not disturbed. Some city residents have said the property should remain on the tax rolls.
The next item on the agenda at the joint meeting was street improvements in the city.
The city has contracted with Mt. Pleasant’s engineering department to conduct a street survey and they will provide a report in the next month or two which will be used to develop a priority list for street improvements. Funds for street improvements are based on a ¾ mill tax which raises only $65,000 to $70,000 annually, or a little more than half the cost to improve one block.
With a priority list the proposed improvements could be put on the ballot as a city wide assessment to improve streets with additional infrastructure improvements coming from the water and sewer fund.
To attract business to Clare, a suggested volunteer group of city ambassadors was suggested.
Finally the process to extend the Rail-Trail through Clare is still ongoing and an initiative is underway to connect the Pere’ Marquette trail to the Fred Meyer trail in Ithaca. The communities along US-127 are all in favor of the project which would be in the MDOT right-of-way from Ithaca to Alma and alongside Old U.S. 27 between Mt. Pleasant and Clare. Another trail group is looking at the possibility of extending that trail south to Ionia.