Waara discusses city plots for future sale | News, Sports, Jobs
HOUGHTON – Houghton City Manager Eric Waara gave an overview of town-owned properties that could be redeveloped and the downtown parking situation at Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting.
Housing, from apartments to condominiums, is the main need identified by developers, Waara said.
“There are people who want to live here, or who want to stay here, but they don’t have the right accommodation,” he said.
The city master plan also lists other considerations, such as attracting new business and talent and promoting increased density and compact design. The city encourages the development and redevelopment of commercial properties, as well as the development of undeveloped parcels. Any development must also maintain the right-of-way on Lake Shore Drive.
Much of Waara’s presentation focused on the Lakeshore Drive parking deck site. Last year, the council voted to begin planning processes to remove the bridge and determine what would replace it.
The bridge property consists of 1.7 acres – 0.6 acres to the west of a condominium property and 1.1 acres to the east. Property lines make some of these plots more desirable than others, Waara said. Ownership is a mixture of fee simple, where transactions are easier, and flat rights of way, which have more legal hurdles in place.
“If the city wanted to sell them to redevelop them, there is additional legal work to be done to sell them,” he said.
The condominium and two rights-of-way – one for Pewabic Street and one for Dodge Street – effectively divide four parcels of fee simple ownership totaling over one acre. They range from 30,000 square feet at the west end near the Portage Lake District Library to a 9,000 square foot room west of the Daily Mining Gazette.
Waara asked the planning commission to start thinking about what they would like to see happen at the site and how the city should go about selling it (collectively or one at a time?).
Through a development agreement, the City will be able to control the type of use and the appearance of the development.
Other parcels include 1.5 acres north of East Lakeshore Drive near Super-8.
“It needs some work, there are utilities in there and things like that that may require relocation, but it’s a developable property right there that we’re sitting on,” he said.
He did not include the rest of the nearby city-owned property, which he hopes will become a trail connecting the Waterfront Trail to the Michigan Technological University campus.
The city also owns seven parcels at the end of College Avenue on the site of the Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce building and parking lot.
Downtown has attracted interest in the past, including from former tenant Midwest Loan Services. The biggest hurdle is finding a place where the city offices can move, Waara said.
“This is a desirable property that could provide many downtown housing options where people would like to be,” he said.
Waara also cited 100 acres of city-owned land behind Walmart. He ruled out the wetlands near the Huron Dam, which he said could be turned into a park or something else.
“There was some interest” he said. “There may be more in the future.”
Another possibility is the city’s RV park near Kestner Waterfront Park. Houghton earns around $50,000 a year for the city.
“Yes, it covers its costs, but there are time and resources that we could perhaps spend elsewhere,” he said. “…I’m not saying one way or the other, but times change.”
Waara said anyone selling any of the town’s properties would also need to have a clear idea of what they would be doing.
“We’re not just going to sell them to somebody,” he said. “There is going to be a development plan that is good for the community.”
Commissioner Mike Needham, who also sits on city council, suggested Waara bring the idea to council on Wednesday so she can strengthen the leadership. He suggested putting a map of city-owned properties on the city’s website to generate interest.
Needham said he didn’t think the council would approve a sale without knowing what the buyer was proposing to do.
“This decision-making process will be short or long depending on the nature of the terrain and the proposed use”, he said.
Waara also discussed the parking situation downtown. Over the next six to 10 months, he said, the city will focus on ways to improve downtown parking management before each time the parking bridge fails.
“Our previous system was basically based on how we can clear snow, and that’s about it,” Waara said.
The city is in the process of renegotiating a parking agreement with Michigan Technological University governing parking at Lakeshore Center. The previous agreement, which dates back to ownership of the building by Upper Peninsula Power Co., expired last year.
The city’s proposal would reverse about 90 spots out of about 140 for Michigan Tech. Another 30 permits would be granted to others in the neighborhood. Some free spots would also be left for two-hour parking, Waara said.
While the previous deal gave Tech full legal parking rights, Waara said the new deal would only give them 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. After that, it would be open to visitors to Dee Stadium or other downtown amenities.
Other city lots could be better managed by painting lines, Waara said. Planning commissioner Kristine Bradof suggested painting lines on the railings to make better use of the space in winter.
In other actions, the commission:
— Recommended that City Council approve a zoning change from R-1 (single-family residential) to R-3 (multi-family residential district) for 24 parcels, primarily on Houghton Avenue East. Planning Commission Chairman Tom Merz, who lives within 300 feet of the property, recused himself and did not participate in the discussion.
– Approval of a site plan for 1220 Military Avenue. The proposed development would be an apartment building on the site of a former dental practice.
— Approved a site plan for 404 E. Sharon Ave. The site will be used for a storage unit.