Berrien County Planning Commission members took the City of St. Joseph's proposed 2015 Master Plan under advisement in an afternoon session Tuesday, and while they were duly impressed by the professional and comprehensive nature of the 136-page document, they cautioned the city to be more collaborative with surrounding municipalities in the future.
Planning Commission member J.B. Hoyt applauded the city for "a marvelous job," where they clearly had the community involved, "but did it in isolation." Hoyt says the destination attraction of the city in a wider regional aspect "is not reflected here."
Berrien County Community Development Director Dan Fette defended the city to some extent saying, "It's a challenge to do a plan like this without being somewhat myopic, because it is, after all, their plan." He did concur, however, that there "needs to be a way to reach out, and the new collaborative Harbor Study is a good example."
Dr. Eric Lester suggested a session to look at the region, not just the boundaries of the city.
The Berrien County Planning Commission is charged with providing feedback to every municipality in the county upon receipt of their community's Master Plan documents to assure there are no inconsistencies with the master plans of contiguous communities and with the county itself.
St. Joseph was applauded for using Community Action Teams on six distinct topics ranging from access and transportation to neighborhoods and infrastructure.
The County Planners looked at proposed zoning updates and land use planning, and the proposed flexibility of special use permitting for zones designated as "water recreational." They noted that while the proposed trail expansion to encompass most of the community reflects good planning, it is not consistent with current uses of many parcels along the route.
The County Planning Commission also elected to issue a "cautionary statement" regarding the commercial harbor as it relates to future land use as "waterfront mixed use." The planners say nothing would interfere with the current or proposed future commercial harbor plan, but the city should work on the sustainability of the commercial harbor.
Commissioners also voiced concern that "parking is moving further away from the city center."
Dr. Lester, noting that a demographic map included in the Master Plan "Shows a lot of older people living alone at the center of the city" said to his colleagues, "I don't see much in the form of public transit." He adds, "I saw a lot of pedestrian traffic options, but what about affordable public transit for the city?"
Dan Fette cited consideration of a Berrien County Transportation Consolidation Plan by the Twin Cities Area Transportation Study Committee "that would go a long way toward helping solve some of those issues, but public transportation is not very robust right now."
All things considered, the County Planning Commission found the plan to be a solid one, and well done, but they also want the city to consider the economic impact and vulnerability of the city to be included in their response, to be cognizant of the critical role that Whirlpool Corporation plays in the greater community.
The county's response will be sent on to the city. City Attorney Laurie Schmidt was in the audience to hear all of the comments made regarding the city's updated Master Plan.
You can see the entire 136-page document by clicking the link below: