Buchanan leaders hear community development update, resident tree concerns

Published 12:09 pm Tuesday, July 27, 2021

BUCHANAN – Economic development and trees were the two main topics at Monday night’s Buchanan City Commission meeting. Commissioners heard two requests related to trees as well as a report from Community Development Director Rich Murphy.

Action was delayed on a request from Zen Leaf to expand their marijuana operations. The Buchanan Planning Commission voted July 13 to allow the business to expand into an adjacent building despite concerns by some residents in attendance over whether it is the best use for that building.

City Manager Heather Grace read a report on the matter from Community Development Director Rich Murphy who was ill and not in attendance.

Murphy wrote that he has asked the city attorney to clarify whether the special use permit request from Zen Leaf has to be approved by the City Commission as well as the Planning Commission. He noted that normally city commission approval is not needed on special use permits approved by the planning commission.

He said the question in this instance is whether the Zen Leaf special use permit request represents an amendment to the special use permit the business received a few years ago. If the city attorney believes it is an amendment, the request will have to be approved by the city commission.

Murphy also gave updates about the city’s social district and his efforts to create a “developer’s toolkit.” He wrote in his report that one more downtown business is expected to apply for a social district license in addition to B & W Old Village Inn which would make the district operational.

He also said he had consulted with Michigan State Liquor Control Commission officials, and it now appears that the city can reimburse businesses for their application fees which total $320. The city commission will be asked to reimburse those fees as well as the cost of the first round of cups, signage and waste receptacles.

As for the toolkit, he said is he writing the economic development incentive programs that have already been presented in concept to the commission.

“I am writing them in real time while I have discussions with real investors who are interested in investment opportunities in Buchanan,” he said.

“The goal is to make every dollar leveraged by investors into Buchanan have the biggest bang for the buck,” he added. “The next steps are to have the proposed programs reviewed by legal counsel and then presented to the commission. After that, the programs will hit the market and be available to engage the investment community to choose Buchanan.”

On trees, commissioners heard from a resident concerned about the maintenance of trees in city-owned tree lawns and approved plans by the Buchanan Tree Friends to plant 50 trees this October.

Former mayor and city commissioner Doyle Vergon asked the city to do more about maintaining trees in the tree lawns. He noted that the recent storms brought down trees in his Lake Street neighborhood with other trees in danger of coming down.

“Driving around town, it’s pathetic to see the trees hanging over streets and about to come down,” he said.

Commissioners directed city staff to contact I & M to check on tree trimming efforts in the city. Interim Public Services Director Mike Baker noted that city crews don’t have equipment certified to work within 10 feet of power lines, which precludes city crews to do such work.

Buchanan Tree Friends representative Richard Martin brought the tree planting request to the commission. The group has received a grant to buy trees to be planted this fall in the city. The tree planting date has been set for Oct. 16 at three locations in the city. As many as 100 volunteers will be needed to do the planting after city crews dig the holes for the trees.

Commissioners approved the planting of trees at three sites in the city. A total of 22 trees will be planted along East Third Street on the south side of that street. On River Street, 12 trees will be planted between Michigan and Fulton. The last group of trees, totaling 16, will be planted around Buchanan Middle School on West Fourth Street.

Commissioners asked Martin and the Tree Friends organization to also advise the city on future tree plans including addressing the maintenance concerns brought up by Vergon.

In other action:

  • Commissioners appointed Grace to the Southeast Berrien County Landfill Authority Board as the second city representative. Commissioner Patrick Swem is the other representative and said it is important for Grace to be on that board and to have full city representation. Grace said she plans to scale back on the number of boards she’s involved in so she can give more of her attention to the landfill board.
  • Commissioners approved appointments and reappointments to the Buchanan Area Fine Arts Council. Kelly Carlin and Trevor Hough were re-appointed to four-year terms retroactive to last July, Alice Kring, Karin Falkenstein and Lee Lyon were re-appointed to four year terms effective July 1 and Patricia Moore was appointed to a new four year term effective July 1. The council also is asking to be able to keep the fine arts council name after earlier asking to have it changed to the Buchanan Area Performing Arts Council.