Buchanan master planning enters home stretch

BUCHANAN – The effort to get a new master plan in place for the city of Buchanan is entering the home stretch. The city’s planning commission was scheduled to act Tuesday night on the final draft of the plan after months of work, a move that will start a process that should culminate with the adoption of the new plan in late September.

Buchanan Community Development Director Rich Murphy outlined the process of getting the new master plan adopted at Monday night’s Buchanan City Commission meeting. As has been the case for most of the last year since the start of the pandemic, the meeting was hosted remotely.

Murphy said the nearly five-month process of getting the plan adopted would begin Tuesday night with planning commissioners voting to recommend adoption of the plan to the city commission. The city commission will accept the plan at their May 24 meeting and then vote to distribute it to the public including putting it on the city website.

He said the commission’s May 24 vote will start a 63-day public review period. The planning commission will then set a public hearing to be held at their Sept. 14 meeting to hear comments. The plan will then be adopted by the city commission at their Sept. 27 meeting.

“There will be more opportunities for the public to review and comment on the plan as we move through the process,” Murphy said.

The importance of the new master plan was emphasized by resident and former county commissioner Don Ryman during public comments.

“We all should pay close attention to the revised master plan,” he said. “People should read it and propose changes if they think they are necessary.”

The Southwest Michigan Planning Commission has been working on updating the 2008 master plan for more than a year. Input has also been received from the public in surveys and community visioning sessions held in 2018.

The new plan describes current conditions in the city as well as the goals and objectives for what it should look like in the future. Goals and objectives include maintaining the city’s hometown feel, supporting the arts, history and special events and emphasizing parks and recreation opportunities as well as economic and business development.

In addition, the new plan lists future land uses and maps, redevelopment opportunities, future zoning district changes and an action plan for the next three years. The plan is a guide for future development and activities in the city.

Monday’s meeting also featured action on a resolution in support of applying for a state grant to pay for the extension of the McCoy’s Creek Trail into Buchanan Township as well as the purchase of a new machine to improve how the city patches potholes.

City officials have been discussing the trail extension for the last few months. If the city is successful in receiving the grant, the current trail runs from southwest to northeast through the city and will be extended along Schirmer Parkway to River Street and then north across the River Street/Walton Road bridge into Buchanan and Niles townships.

Plans call for this new section of the trail to end at the River St. Joe Brewery on Walton Road. Trail organizers eventually want to extend the trail to meet up with the Indiana Michigan River Valley Trail that will be extended north from Niles to Berrien Springs.

Suzannah Deneau, of the Wightman engineering firm, has been working on the project with the city over the last few months. She reported that the deadline for grant applications for MDOT’s Transportation Alternatives Program is in June. The city is asking for $131,000 from the TAP program.

Other funding for the $425,000 project will come from a Niles Area Transportation Study TAP grant of $123,660, a $131,000 Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant and a $106,000 local match. The NATS grant is already in hand and the city would apply for the trust fund grant next spring. The goal is to have the trail extension work done in 2023.

Friends of McCoy’s Creek Trail member Jerry Flenar told commissioners in late April that he had already raised over $90,000 and expected to be able to raise the rest to cover the local match. Besides the city of Buchanan, the project has gotten support from Buchanan and Niles Townships as the trail extension will run through their townships.

Commissioners approved purchasing a new “hotbox” to allow city workers to better fill potholes in city streets. City Department of Public Works employee Mike Baker said the city’s current equipment is old and in need of repair.

Baker told commissioners that he found in his research that the best piece of equipment for the city is a Falcon four-ton recycler and hotbox with a hydraulic dump that costs $27,512.77. He noted that this is the same equipment that the Berrien County Road Department uses in making repairs on county roads.

City Manager Heather Grace said the new equipment will allow city crews to repair potholes much faster and better.

“We will now be able to repair potholes much faster and the quality of the repairs will be higher as we will be filling the potholes with reclaimed asphalt instead of cold patch,” she said.

Grace noted that using the reclaimed asphalt is also cheaper with the cost about one-third the price per ton of buying cold patch. Maintenance of the new equipment is expected to be cheaper and easier with components being able to be bolted on and off for easier repairs.

The city commission will hold a budget workshop session on Wednesday, May 19 at 7:30 a.m. The city’s new budget will be formally presented at the commission’s May 24 meeting. Grace said the extra revenue from marijuana businesses in the city as well as the American Recovery Act will play a large role in the formulation of her budget proposals.

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