Montcalm County General Plan draft approved for distribution

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 11:19 am on Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Montcalm County Commissioner John Johansen of Montcalm Township, left, explains details of the drafted version of the revised Montcalm County General Plan to fellow county commissioners Monday afternoon at the Montcalm County Administrative Building in Stanton. — Daily News/Cory Smith

STANTON — Described as a “foundation stone” to help lead to a new future, the Montcalm County General Plan has moved one step closer to being revised and reimplemented with a goal to provide policy that guides decision making for future land and infrastructure development within Montcalm County.

Montcalm County Commissioners voted Monday to approve the distribution of the Montcalm County General Plan in draft format to receive comments on the proposed changes.

After discussion between commission members, the motion passed with a 5-4 vote with commission members Patrick Q. Carr of Lakeview, Ron Blanding of Greenville, Tom Lindeman of Greenville and Ron Braman of Vestaburg opposed.

“It appears, after reading through everything, that they really did a lot of work on this,” Commissioner Ron Baker of Howard City said. “They really tried to get things squared away for the county.”

The plan consists of seven chapters, and within them, planning issues in the context of best practices and economic development are identified, descriptions of existing and future land uses are outlined, transportation and other public infrastructure policies are identified and specific implementation measures are recommended.

Changes from the revisions to plan made in 2011 include the implementation of “place-making,”  and creating a “new economy” where workers, entrepreneurs and businesses want to locate, invest and expand within the county.

According to wording in the draft document, competition is no longer described as competing with neighboring regions, but rather with regions from around the globe.

A new addition to the General plan focuses on an intent to complement and work with the Montcalm county subregion and the West Michigan Regional Planning Commission, which in turn complements and works within Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Among items discussed by commission members on Monday was a line of text that mentions discussion of county-wide zoning.

Commissioner Carr brought the question forward during commissioner comments.

“Is there a paragraph near the beginning that talks about this being a desire to move toward county-wide zoning?” he asked.

After receiving confirmation from commissioner John Johansen of Montcalm Township that there was indeed such a paragraph, commissioner Betty Kellenberger of Carson City read the paragraph aloud.

“The planning commission is interested in exploring county-wide zoning,” she read. “If this is pursued, it would be done by direct conversation with all municipal and township officials in such a manner that the county planning commission will honor and follow the consensus from that process.”

Planning Commission member Don Smucker, who was in attendance at Monday’s meeting, said that the draft is not stating that the county is moving in the direction of county-wide zoning, but that the opportunity to discuss it is being sought.

Carr stated he was still concerned with the new paragraph.

“I’m sure you remember my concern with starting the planning commission (in 2006) and county-wide zoning,” he said. “The explanation at that time was that we needed something in place to preserve farmland to be able to leverage development rights and federal money. In no way, shape or form, was this to turn into county-wide zoning … I don’t think we’ve got the budget or manpower to attempt county-wide zoning.”

Johansen said the impact of a general plan would only primarily impact six townships, adding that local townships outrank the county when it comes to county-wide zoning.

Baker then read an additional paragraph from the 2011 version of the plan, still intact in the new draft version, on the subject of zoning.

“All cities, villages and townships are encouraged to adopt and maintain local zoning consistent with the local master plan and this county general plan,” he said. “What their trying to do is get intergovernmental cooperation. This plan encourages everyone to adopt their own.”

Carr still said he was dissatisfied with the wording in the draft.

“The language in that paragraph that talks about moving this to county-wide zoning is just one step too close to get my support,” he said.

After Monday’s vote, the Planning Commission will now await public feedback before moving forward with the drafted version of the General Plan.

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