Buchanan City Commission discusses master plan, marijuana application, trees complaints

BUCHANAN – Buchanan City Commissioners had a lot on their plate at their meeting Monday night.

Commissioners discussed everything from trees on Days Avenue and progress on the revising the city’s master plan to approving a new marijuana business and taking the first steps to financing municipal building improvements.

Monday’s meeting was entirely remote due to the recent increase in COVID-19 cases in the county. City Manager Heather Grace reported that she has also taken steps to limit public access to city buildings in order to keep staff and residents safe. City Hall and the Buchanan Police Department are open on a limited basis with people only able to enter the small lobby area in each building.

The future of trees along Days Avenue was the most controversial topic of the meeting. Four people spoke on the subject at the start of the meeting and asked commissioners to not remove the trees as was being considered.

The issue came up due to complaints from homeowners along Days Avenue who said the trees in front of their homes are causing problems ranging from raising up sidewalks to the roots clogging up sewer lines.

Resident Alan Robandt said he would like to see tree removal be the last resort.

“Trees are so important in terms of defining the character of our community,” he said. “Cutting and removing them doesn’t make sense. … There’s something so totally sad about removing trees.”

Martha Cleveland agreed.

“When I’m at the farmer’s market and look east to Days Avenue, that tree line is beautiful,” she said. “They should stay, they are a true community asset. Destroying them should be a last resort.”

Public Works Director J.T. Adkerson said the situation with the trees has been ongoing for several years with homeowners complaining mainly about having sewer issues caused by the tree roots as well as the sidewalks being lifted up. He said the situation was made worse by AEP cutting out one side of many trees which make them heavily weighted to one side.

“Nine of 15 homeowners want something done, they want those trees to go away and be replaced with other trees,” he said. “They’re concerned about safety and their lateral sewer lines. I would like to do something before it’s an emergency because it’s coming … It’s better to do it on our time.”

He and Grace said they have had conversations not only with the homeowners but also with the Buchanan Tree Friends group. They said the Tree Friends are connecting the city with an arborist to find possible solutions. Tree Friend member Ann Tuite noted that the arborist she talked to said that trees wouldn’t cause sewer line problems unless the sewer lines were already compromised.

Commissioners had differing views about what to do. Cameron Downey said the sidewalk problems have been there for decades and warned that clearing out the trees and not replacing them would be a bad idea. Mark Weedon said while everyone wants to keep the trees, something needs to be done to help homeowners. Mayor Sean Denison said he was confident a solution can be found to satisfy everyone.

Commissioners approved taking the first steps to establish a municipal building authority. Grace said the authority will give the city more flexibility in financing municipal building and repair projects by issuing bonds.

Commission action on that front included authorizing the Dickinson & Wright law firm to incorporate the municipal building authority at a cost of up to $5,000 as well as the Baker Tilly firm to provide bond issue services to be able to sell municipal bonds for such projects at a cost of $15,000.

Grace said the goal is to have the authority operational by early 2021.

“There are no firm projects in mind other than the DPW building either being repaired or relocated,” she said. “However, any municipal buildings could ultimately become projects of the new Authority including the historic preservation of the Ross Sanders building and repairs to the fire station.”

Planning Director Debra Patzer reported on both the master plan update and the new marijuana business. On the latter, the commission approved the adult use marijuana application of Pinnacle Emporium at 221 E. Front St. The commission had previously approved a medical marijuana business at that location which Pinnacle took over.

With the master plan update, planning commissioners have been meeting with Southwest Michigan Planning Commission senior planner Marcy Hamilton to see what has to be done to update the master plan and were scheduled to meet again Tuesday night. Patzer said the main focus is looking at the city’s vision, goals and action plan and revising them.

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