Herald JournalHerald Journal, April 7, 2003

Howard Lake council's plate is full of projects

By Lynda Jensen

Howard Lake continued to jump with major projects according to discussion at its council meeting Tuesday.

A number of residents approached the council about different issues.

Victor Township resident Kent Houston pressed the council with questions about a proposed development south of town, to be called Village Park.

Houston cited a long list of concerns about the proposed development, which would likely add 120 single family homes to the existing 29 homes there.

Houston echoed sentiments expressed by Middleville Township residents, saying that the planned starter homes would decrease the value of existing ones, the density is too great, traffic concerns and road maintenance issues, storm water runoff, among other issues.

Mayor Gerry Smith pointed out that there will be a public hearing to answer questions in the future.

This may be too late, Houston answered, because decisions may be made already.

In addition, Houston noted the council appears to have a blatant disregard for what the township wanted, or its future neighbors.

It is noted that the road leading to the proposed development southwest of the city is a county road.

"Will it be paved?" Houston asked. "Who will pay for it?"

Smith referred Houston to the county.

Administrator Kelly Bahn indicated that issues such as density could not be addressed until a preliminary plat is submitted to the city.

Many residents do not support annexation, Houston said.

Smith defended the project, saying the city is in need of affordable housing. "There's a lot of advantages to it."

A person with a moderate income cannot find affordable housing in Howard Lake any longer, Smith said.

Houston said that starter homes are available in Howard Lake right now.

He would not be able to sell his house at its current value if the buyer knew an affordable housing project is moving in next door, Houston said.

Houston also indicated that more people would naturally bring more crime.

The city needs to grow as the others are, Smith said. More people mean more patrons for local businesses, he said.

Houston pointed out that the developer, Cascade Land Company, is not local.

"This development poses a difficult dilemma for those who live there now," Houston said.

The council is planning to have meetings about orderly annexation with both Middleville and Victor.

Narrower roads flap

Turning to other subjects, the council heard from resident Mary Marschel, who objected to narrower roads planned for several streets related to south side utility upgrades.

Marschel, who lives on Fifth Avenue, expressed unhappiness with the projected decrease of seven feet in the road width, from 39 feet wide to 32.

Marschel indicated that there is no sidewalk at her property and that she doesn't want to pay for a new one, when the existing road width worked well for strollers and the like.

The reasons cited earlier by the engineer, such as less storm water runoff and ease of snow plowing, were not enough to convince her the road should be consistent with other roads, she said.

"I'm concerned about people who use it for pleasure," she said.

Homes to be affected are along Ninth Street, 12th Street, Fourth Avenue, and Fifth Avenue.

DeWolf asked the council to mandate 32-foot-wide roads, to make them consistent with other roads.

This is enough to give two lanes of traffic and one lane of parking.

South side utility work to begin mid May

City Engineer Brad DeWolf also gave an overview of the utility upgrades planned for the south side, which will begin mid-May.

The improvements will target the worst of an aging utility system.

This includes old clay pipes in the sewer system that are broken or leak, at times running cross country or under garages, DeWolf said last fall.

Currently, the waste water is routed past the treatment plant to the old maintenance a garage by Mallard pass Lake, and then pumped back up the hill, which is inefficient, DeWolf said.

A lift station is proposed south of Fourth Street, which would serve the neighborhood and future developments south of town.

Legion plans to expand

The Howard Lake City Council proceeded with plans to give a business subsidy to the American Legion for expansion of its bar and grill located at Seventh Avenue.

The Legion is currently making arrangements to obtain adjacent property from Dave Kadlec, owner of the lot that faces Highway 12.

The subsidy would assist the Legion in demolition costs for the blighted structure that currently exists at the corner.

Tax-wise, the end result will be to convert a dilapidated building into a tax producing property.

If all goes according to plan, the Legion could break ground this spring, adding to its current building to the north, as well as a parking lot.

The expansion will allow the Legion to hire a full-time bartender and two part-time positions.

Tax increment financing consultant Michele Hartman discussed different options, saying that the city would be able to offer a tax abatement to the Legion over a period of 15 years. This would amount to about $3,900 in taxes per year being returned, for a total of about $58,400. Hartman indicated that these were only estimates.

The Legion would pay its taxes, and the city would return its portion of the formula to the Legion each year, she said.

In contrast, a TIF arrangement would only yield about $2,700 per year, she said.

Also, everything is a "moving target," the Legislature, and the rules may be changed regarding TIF, she said.

Tax abatement is less likely to be changed and more secure than TIF right now when it comes to politics, Administrator Kelly Bahn commented.

There will be a public hearing to discuss the venture Thursday, April 24 at 7 p.m. at the community room above the public library.

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