BELDING — There’s no denying a desire for more sidewalks throughout the city of Belding.
Providing ample pathways for foot traffic throughout the city limits is a dream that many residents have wished to come true for years. But at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, an issue focusing on the addition of sidewalks in the industrial zoned areas of the city drew critical response from business owners and citizens as members of City Council rejected an ordinance amendment that would have allowed the Belding Planning Commission to declare the installment of certain sidewalks as “unreasonable.”
The Planning Commission, at a Jan. 29 public hearing, voted to recommend the City Council approve changes being proposed to the zoning ordinance.
The changes would allow an applicant to declare the requirement for sidewalks in the I-1 Industrial District in Belding unreasonable by the Planning Commission during a site plan review.
The City Council had the first reading at its Feb. 5 meeting and voted 3-2 to defeat the motion.
On Tuesday, council members voted again during a second reading in a 4-1 vote, with Mayor Pro-Tem Andrea Belding voting against, to reject the amended ordinance.
According to the current city ordinance, “Sidewalks shall be constructed on all sides of the property abutting a public street, in accordance with city standards.”
The amended ordinance would have added a revision to the ordinance that read, “However, when requested by an applicant, the Planning Commission may, by separate vote, determine this requirement to be unreasonable during site plan review.”
The city of Belding hired LSL Planning Inc. as a consultant to help provide a recommendation to Planning Commission.
Their findings, provided by LSL Senior Planner Shawn Seymour, were as follows:
“In some instances, it may be unreasonable to request that a property owner provide sidewalks,” a statement read at the Jan. 29 meeting. “Requiring sidewalks for infill development where sidewalks were not previously constructed can appear to be a piecemeal approach. Sidewalks that extend the length of one property but travel no further provide little public benefit.”
The issue was brought up after Belding Tank Technologies came forward requesting the amendment after performing a site plan review that now requires the business to install a sidewalk.
The sidewalk that would be required by Belding Tank Technologies to be installed, in a two-year window, would not have a connecting sidewalk, with the nearest adjacent sidewalk an eighth of a mile away.
During citizen comment, Belding Tank Technologies President Dan Blunt spoke before City Council in hopes it would reconsider the decision to reject the proposed ordinance amendment.
“I don’t think this makes sense. It’s a sidewalk that leads to nowhere,” he said. “We’re not in a high-traffic area. The nearest sidewalk to us is one-eighth of a mile away. We’re looking at spending $37,000 that isn’t going to benefit hardly anybody in this town.”
Blunt then listed off more than 35 groups and organizations that Belding Tank has donated to throughout the years, stating he’s not afraid to put money back into the community.
Blunt, feeling his company is being singled out, added that he is upset with what he believes would be a project that would require the company to spend “foolish dollars.”
“You said the city doesn’t have any money to put in sidewalks, therefore you don’t have to do it,” Blunt said. “But this isn’t about money, it’s about making good decisions. If we want to solve the sidewalk issue in the city of Belding, I think we all should put sidewalks in.”
Throughout Tuesday night’s meeting, eight other citizens spoke up against Council’s decision, backing Blunt’s remarks.
Councilman Tom Jones said he believes the sidewalk Belding Tank Technologies will now have to install is indeed resourceful.
“I take exception that that is ‘a sidewalk to nowhere’ because we have Lightning Bend Park there that hopefully is going to start generating more traffic,” Jones said. “If we’re going to have this waiver in there for sidewalks to nowhere for the Industrial (park), then we should have it for commercial and residential, as well. We either need to exempt it for everybody or we need a comprehensive sidewalk plan (for the entire city).”
Councilman Joe Feuerstein said he doesn’t agree with providing an exemption for an ordinance that has been in place since the 1960s and is disappointed it hasn’t been enforced appropriately since that time.
“Concerning sidewalks, this (ordinance) has been (in effect) since 1964,” Feuerstein said. “But it hasn’t been enforced, which is why you’re in the situation you are in. There are homes built after 1964 that don’t have sidewalks. As for Belding Tank, I think this should have been taken care of a long time ago in the Industrial Park.”
Councilman Mike Scheid said he believes providing an exception for businesses in the industrial park would “open up a Pandora’s Box.”
Belding Mayor Ron Gunderson said the sidewalk that would be installed may presently not connect to any adjacent sidewalks, but he did cite other areas of the city that have to deal with the same issue.
“The issue that I have is that this phrase, ‘a sidewalk to nowhere,’ is that we have them all over the city,” Gunderson said. “But as they are being filled in they are no longer going to nowhere.”
Belding voiced her displeasure with council’s decision on the night.
“Truly, this is a sidewalk that will go to nowhere,” she said. “What we have before us is, I think, a good end to what the Planning Commission and Belding Tank has gone through. No other company in that district should have to go through something of this nature if they ever want to expand or add to their business.”