NEW BUFFALO — The New Buffalo City Council was presented with the latest version of the city’s Waterfront Master Plan during its Feb. 16 regular meeting.
Mike Huber of Abonmarche consultants said the design process began in 2019 with funding from a USDA rural development grant, and continued with an online survey that drew 654 responses and a two interactive public input events. The idea was to look at all the components of the waterfront (the beach, boat launch, Lions Pavilion, the riverfront park and the Dune Walk) with an eye on improving the area while keeping what’s strong.
“We asked the community to … respond and vote on … those three concepts (presented at the second design ‘charette’), what they liked and what they didn’t like. What was popular and what wasn’t, so we could take all of that information … and then really build a viable plan,” Huber said.
He noted that 48 percent of those responding to the survey indicated New Buffalo’s beach was not their preferred place to visit Lake Michigan – with issues like parking, cost, crowds, and poor amenities such as rest rooms cited. Positives noted included proximity, safety provided by lifeguards, sunsets, making memories with family, and recent improvements.
Huber said overall “people … wanted to just respect the natural beauty of the beach-front area, and anything that’s build should reflect that or just blend in.”
Results of the second design event (at which three concepts were presented) included support for the addition of a “right-size” amphitheater, a traffic roundabout for access to the beach lots, a kayak launch area, a playground, and a pedestrian bridge and promenade.
Huber said Abonmarche then came up with a general concept design based on what members of the public indicated they wanted which incorporates goals such as: Mitigating beach erosion due to high water levels; Improving access to the park; Improving the overall use experience; and Improving the boat launch experience.
He said there are seven key components to the new Waterfront Master Plan which include:
A shoreline stabilization seawall that runs along the Galien River Channel.
The relocation of Marquette Drive and the installation of a roundabout at the beach entrance to improve traffic flow and provide a separate entrance into the boat launch parking area. Huber said raising the elevation of the roadway also could help with flood mitigation.
Boat launch enhancements such as creating new paddling opportunities and reconfiguring the set-up of the area, (possibly add an outbuilding and incorporate overflow beach parking) with major goals of improving the user experience and access for boats and trailers. There also would be the possibility of a new spot for the Lions Park Pavilion between the boat launch and the beach.
Creating a new beach drop-off area designed to operate more efficiently with better traffic flow via multiple entry and exit points. Huber said the design has about 10 spots less than are currently at the beach, but expanded parking opportunities at the boat launch should leave the number about where it is now.
Expanding the usable beach and recreation area and bring it further south by removing some of the old parking area to reduce crowding.
Creating a new plaza area at the beach with a pedestrian promenade and possible pop-up shops/food trucks in and around a new multi-purpose building including an amphitheater feel, new bathrooms/changing rooms, and possibly classrooms/event spaces would be added, with all of the amenities sporting a look similar to the recently renovated downtown area. This area also would have an ADA-accessible boardwalk to the beach.
Installation of a pedestrian bridge next to the Whittaker Street bridge leading to a promenade built off a seawall that could include a “signature overlook.”
“We don’t want to drive a whole lot more vehicular traffic down here. If we can enhance the pedestrian access … and increase the beach-front size I think that will address some of those crowding concerns without hurting the existing parking revenues too much,” Huber said.
He said Abonmarche’s goals for the waterfront project phasing plan were to provide flexibility in the construction of different elements to address the priority issues first and construct improvements as funding is identified.
“If you get a big chunk of money right away you could build more. If it’s incremental then you can build pieces a little bit at a time.”
He said the first phase of the plan focuses on flooding mitigation via shoreline stabilization aspects of the design and helping with access improvements through relocating Marquette Drive and building in the roundabout.
Huber said the city could maintain the beach as it is and even add some additional parking while the first phase is being implemented while also keeping a functional Lions Park area.
He said “Phase two is really about the parking,” noting that the new beach parking and drop-off area along with boat launch improvements are in this phase.
Phase three involves “finishing out the amenities and the hardscape.”
“And that’s all about the plaza and the promenade, expanding the beach, removing some of the parking up there, and really kind of building in and filling out the beach experience.”
Huber said “preliminary opinions of cost” predicted just under $4 million for phase one; right under $2 million for phase two; and just under $5 million for the third phase.
“We didn’t include the pedestrian bridge in any of the phases because it felt like that’s one of those things where you could stick it in with whichever phase you wanted,” he said, adding that it would cost an estimated $1.3 million.
“All total we’re looking at just under $12 million for all of the different … components of the beach plan.”
Mayor John Humphrey said it seems possible for the city to implement the plan in stages “over five, six, eight years.”
“The questions for us are going to be obviously finance and how we approach that via grants and the rest,” he added.
Board member Roger Lijewski said he thinks “we definitely need to move on the wall.”
In another Feb. 16 matter, the City Council heard a presentation by local architect Bill McCollum on plans being made to transform the building at 1 North Whittaker St. (the former home of the Grand Variety store).
He said two options to create outside dining along Whittaker Street are being explored – 1. to pull the building’s existing wall back almost 15 feet to make room for outdoor dining in front (and a little more in the alleyway to the west) for a total of 92 seats; or 2. a plan that combines cutting the existing wall of the building 7.7 feet and extending the dining area 12 feet 4 inches into the public way to create 128 seats.
McCollum said special dispensation from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission also is needed.
Humphrey asked council members how they feel about the idea of a large area of outdoor dining with an easement of a public sidewalk? He later said the real question isn’t the outdoor public seating as much as it is the easement onto city property (the sidewalk).
Council member Brian Flanagan said concerned he was concerned about parking and the small amount of space for pedestrians along U.S. 12 and at the busy intersection with Whittaker Street.
McCollum said plans include removing a chunk of the building at the intersection to open up more room for people to get around. He also noted that the building shares a parking lot with Barney’s, and there’s a lot of discussion to be done on the parking issue.
McCollum said Holiday Properties is managing the building and they hope to present a proposal to the Planning Commission
Council member Lou O’Donnell IV asked if the Downtown Develoment Authority has had input on the proposal and suggested it go there first. He also said parking is an important issue related to the plan (Mark Robertson and Humphrey agreed).
For more on 1 Whittaker Street plans, see the Planning Commission article in the News section of this website.
Humphrey mentioned “litigation directed at us as a city” during council comments just before adjournment, adding that he has read the complaint.
“I can’t mention any of the details here, but what I can mention is that there is some case law mentioned in the complaint that as a resident would have me concerned about the reasonableness … of some of the city’s past decisions when it comes to the overall direction we’ve taken with short-term rentals.”
He said moving forward the council will need to have a closed session “on legal issues tied directly to that complaint.”
Near the conclusion of the meeting, Humphrey said a former New Buffalo interim city manager in the late 1990s, William Sinclair, had passed away.
Robertson said the city’s Street Department is doing an excellent job amidst all of the recent snow.
In other Feb. 16 business, the New Buffalo City Council:
Approved (by a 3-2 vote with Humphrey, Flanagan and Lijewski voting yes while O’Donnell and Robertson voted no) entering into a one-time lease purchase agreement for six new city vehicles with Enterprise Managed Fleet Services at an estimated initial cost of $54,047.72 (with annual lease costs closer to $40,000 per year after the first year with many options once vehicles can be purchased), and going forward lease only police vehicles through the program unless other vehicles also are needed.
Agreed to apply for a $40,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture from the Rural Business Development Grant Program that could cover the majority of the engineering costs for the city’s marina expansion and shoreline protection project (a piece of the Waterfront Plan) including a seawall to protect Whittaker Street and the parking area of the city beach and expanding the municipal marina to include broadside docking on the Whittaker Street side of the river. The City would be responsible for a 17-percent match if the grant is approved.
Was notified that the city had received a $8,976 Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding Grant as a reimbursement for money spent to fight the pandemic (personal protective equipment, computer hardware and software for employees that work from home, and cleaning supplies).
OK’d suspending 2019 private contributions to the city’s dredge fund (originally done because high water levels made a large amount of boat slips unusable) and applying the 2019 payments made to 2020 invoicing, which will go out immediately upon council approval. It was reported that there is about $400,000 in the fund.
Were told by Interim City Manager Rich Killips that city staff and the city attorney are working on revisions to the proposed short-term rental regulatory ordinance.”taking into consideration public comments on the original draft revisions.” He said the Planning Commission will simultaneously begin discussion on a possible zoning amendment to restrict new short-term rentals as appropriate during a soon-to-be-scheduled meeting, with a public hearing and presentation to the City Council set to follow.
Approved having Abonmarche move ahead with the engineering portion of a project to build a separator that would stop the Mayhew Street Storm drain from emptying sediment into a privately owned boat slip in the Moorings at a cost of $21,700. Abonmarche also will prepare for the bidding of work.
Was informed that the proposed articles of incorporation for the yet-to-be finalized formation of a Parks and Recreation Authority involving the city, New Buffalo Area Schools and New Buffalo Township will be posted for the public to review. Two parks have been identified in the articles as coming under the purview of the authority – Oselka Park and an area in the township across the street from the elementary school that has a cross county course in it. Each municipality would contribute $5,000 annually to the authority and each project, once they are determined, would have its own separate agreement.