NEW BUFFALO — The necessity of upgrading the municipal marina and the need for affordable housing were in the spotlight during the Oct. 28 New Buffalo City Council meeting that was delayed a week because of a power outage.
Mike Morphey of Abonmarche reported on issues and potential solutions at the city-owned transient marina facility.
Those issues included: the docks and utilities “are in rough shape;” there are electric receptacles that do not meet current power demands; a number of water leaks were observed; some of the dock are underwater and can no longer be adjusted up and down; most of the slips have below ADA-level height clearances (an issue that was addressed this summer); building accessibility, ventilation, restroom and other issues (Morphey said the main building needs a lot of capital improvements); a lot of settling in the sidewalks; an undersized parking lot that is in poor condition; not enough slips that can accommodate large vessels (35 feet and up); and about half of the tables in poor condition.
A survey of boaters included major weaknesses cited as restrooms, showers and laundry facilities.
Morphey said the New Buffalo’s greatest asset is its A-plus location — “You’re close to a major population center … you’ve got al the positives that one can gain from being in Harbor Country.”
Potential solutions to some of the marina issues included: repairing docks and the parking lot at an estimated cost of $400,000 to $650,000; adding grills, tables and perhaps a swingset to pavilions that were installed this summer; expanding the main building ($300,000 to $750,000); adding a large broad side dock on the far side of the Galien River (an expensive proposition at about $1.8 million, but one that Morphey said creates a welcoming community for both boaters and the public while accommodating boats all all sizes).
It was noted that grant applications to the state Waterways Commission to seek help in paying for such projects are due by April 1, 2020.
Tony McGhee, also of Abonmarche, said one of the few sites in the city limits where an affordable housing project could happen is a city-owned parcel near the former hardware store building on South Whittaker Street.
He noted that Harbor Country housing values have gone up significantly in recent years while wages have stayed stagnant. And a lack of affordable housing is not unique to this area.
“This is an issue that communities up and down the shoreline are dealing with right now.”
He said a recent survey of the 220 properties on the market in New Buffalo showed an average price of $450,000, adding that average price per square foot is about half of the New Buffalo cost in Bridgman.
McGhee said a “cottage strategy” developed by the Michigan Municipal League involving modular cottages was used to devise a plan for the South Whittaker area where the city owns land (16 cottages and 50-plus parking spaces are included). The houses would range in size from a duplex containing two 450-square-foot apartments; and a 900-square-foot, two bedroom cottage.
He stressed that this is “an idea, not a fleshed out plan.”
McGhee said the local school system’s building trades program could be a potential partner in developing the site.
Mayor Lou O’Donnell IV said figuring out a way to configure deed restrictions to control the development of the property is a major challenge to make sure more affordable housing ends up being added.
In other Oct. 28 City Council business:
• The City Council swore in a new Deputy Clerk/Interim Clerk/FOIA Coordinator (Amy Fidler) in the wake of Clerk Lori Vanderclay’s recent move to North Carolina.
• The council was given a progress report on the Whittaker Street Bridgman project, which Morphey said was going well and should be done in about 30 days.
• Katie Maroney of Equilibrium Fitness and Zech Hoyt of the YMCA of Southwest Michigan provided an update on plans for a local Community Center with a fundraising campaign set to kick off in early 2020 with the goal of raising $1.6 million to fully implement a community-based YMCA center in the parochial school building behind St. Mary of the Lake Church in New Buffalo.
Hoyt said Head Start could have students “in their seats” at the site as early as Nov. 18. He added that a special use permit is being sought to allow the YMCA to “do some care right alongside Head Start.”
• The council agreed to extend the ADA-accessible beach walkway 80 feet to get as close to the shoreline as possible at a cost of $7,187.00.
• It was reported that the city-owned building on South Whittaker Street that was once a hardware store did not receive any bids in a recent effort to sell the structure. O’Donnell recommended the site be put on the market for 60 days with deed restrictions so a buyer would have to begin work within a specified amount of time, and the council agreed.
• O’Donnell said a long-running billing issue with the GRSD was close to being resolved, with some very high charges now appearing to stem from a meter malfunction and an error that should work in the city’s favor.
• The council approved sidewalk and curb projects along with tree removal on a section of Mechanic Street.
• During the public comment portion of the meeting several people spoke about short-term rentals and the city’s new ordinance covering such arrangements, with a lack of inspections, insufficient code enforcement and the need to bring back familiar neighbors cited as shortcomings of the current system.
O’Donnell and Council member Mark Robertson said the ordinance is a work in progress and feedback from the community is welcome.
• O’Donnell said all of the remaining street work in the city that was delayed by a strike is slated to be completed by Nov. 15.
• Glen Logan, who said he was representing The Moorings, asked city officials to support efforts to close off portions of the harbor containing boat slips so excess water can be pumped out. It was noted that state agencies are likely to have the final word on such projects.