BY BENJAMIN J. GOHS, EDITOR & CHRIS FAULKNOR, PUBLISHER
The issue of affordable housing was not only among numerous topics discussed during last week’s annual Boyne City Joint Boards & Commissions meeting—it was the meeting’s theme.
On Thursday Feb. 8, representatives from 19 of Boyne City’s business, educational, and municipal bodies gave updates on their work over the last year, as well as a look at upcoming projects and concerns.
Boyne City Manager Michael Cain opened the session by discussing the plan for the city’s upcoming goal-setting sessions.
“After every city commission election, we have a goal-setting process … where we try to get community input, review what we’ve been doing, what we’ve been doing well—what we’ve not been doing as well—and kind of list what the community … what they think the priorities of the city should be,” Cain said. “And, the commission challenged us this year to try and improve the process over what we’ve done in the past.”
Cain said the city plans to hold a number of sessions throughout 2018 in order to garner more community input.
“We’ve had kind of a subcommittee that’s been working on this matter,” he said.
Boyne City Mayor Tom Neidhamer said the theme of the meeting was workforce housing.
“There’s been lots of discussion … and it’s actually a national issue, a Michigan issue, a regional issue, and definitely a local issue,” he said. “That’s affordable housing, and we’ve talked a lot about that term—is it affordable housing? Is it workforce housing? And we don’t really want to define which one’s right, which one’s wrong. We just know that, in order for Boyne City to be sustainable, we have to recognize that there is a housing shortage.”
One attendee said he has heard some local officials say they don’t believe there is a housing shortage, despite claims to the contrary by real-estate experts.
Cain said numerous communities in the Northern Michigan region are having similar discussions to Boyne City about what to do to increase the amount of housing they have available for working families.
Former Boyne City Commissioner Laura Sansom, who attended the meeting as a representative of the Historic Commission, said the city needs some short-term seasonal housing for workers who come to the area merely for the summer tourism jobs.
Cain said ideas similar to Sansom’s are being considered in other communities. He also said the city has been reviewing its catalog of property in search of potential solutions for a housing development.
Boyne City Commissioner Hugh Conklin suggested forming a committee in order to focus efforts on the issue rather than simply having discussions on the matter.
Joint Boards & Commissions updates
Economic Development Corp./Local Development Finance Authority
Ralph Gillett said his board renewed a tax increment financing plan, plus discussions on some vacant lots under its authority, as well as a look at traffic flow and signage on a section of M-75.
Cindy Grice, the chair of the commission, said there will be three elections this year: Boyne City Public Schools and Char-Em, a primary in August and general election in November.
Historical District Commission
Jeff Wellman talked a little about the Pearl Street historic district but said there have been no new applications. His commission works to help maintain the historic nature of the area.
Sansom said it has been an exciting and productive year. She talked about the museum planner her board hired to help develop the city’s new museum, which is still in the planning process.
“We did a joint effort with the Boyne City Fire Department, the La France celebration in August,” she said of the 100-year-old fire truck. “That was really a hugely successful and fun event.”
Heritage Center Board
Representatives said the historical commission has done a great job over the years and the new Heritage Center Board is excited to take over its duties. The Heritage Center Board will oversee the city’s new museum.
The representative for the Boyne City Housing Commission said his organization is at full occupancy in low-income housing, and there is a waiting list for Section 8 vouchers.
HUD continues to rank Boyne’s housing commission highly, and the money which the commission had owed HUD over the last few years in regards with financing Deer Meadows has been paid off.
There will also be some community input sessions on a potential housing solution the housing commission has been considering.
Main Street Board
Board member Michelle Cortright said the Boyne Main Street Program will celebrate its 15th year in 2018.
“Main Street has had a significant impact on our community,” she said.
The National Main Street group will host its annual meeting in this June in Boyne City.
“On the subject of housing, the Boyne City Main Street Program is very enthusiastic and a viable partner to engage in the housing discussions,” Cortright said. “We want to be front and center with all that.”
Team Boyne is an economic vitality group which works to help new and existing businesses grow.
Team Boyne is working on economic retention, business expansion, and business recruitment.
Parks & Rec Commission
The Boyne City Parks & Recreation Commission oversees several hundred acres of parks in the city, and sees they are maintained and improved.
This year’s goals include working on a plan to develop the Boyne Open Space property, Veterans Park pavilion work, the marina, and Avalanche Preserve, in addition to other efforts. There is also an expansion plan for the city’s Ridge Run Dog Park, which will include a fitness trail.
Boyne City Planning Director Scott McPherson said his group is looking at barriers to housing and what can be done. They have also addressed some prohibitive daycare center standards, as well as a restrictive waterfront zoning district regulation which the city’s planners were able to make less cumbersome.
“The planning commission has also been working on the M-75 Corridor Plan,” he said. “As a Redevelopment Ready Community, the city qualified for a consultant to do this plan at no charge.”
The plan will look at opportunities and places for improvement.
Zoning Board of Appeals
The ZBA handles requests for zoning variances. Officials say they are getting a lot less requests than they used to because state zoning changes have become more stringent, and less often allow appeals to be approved.
Airport Advisory Board
Richard Bouters of the Airport Advisory Board said Boyne City has some of the lowest fuel prices in the state—currently $4.27 per gallon. The airport also offers a courtesy car for airport users. It was used 72 times in 2017.
Bouters said most of the people who use the car take it into town to shop and dine.
Bouters also said the drag races held at the airport continue to be a successful fundraiser for the airport and local charities. Bouters also said the airport needs to look into developing an emergency plan as well as planning for the long-term needs of the runway.
Board of Review
This board meets every March to hear petitions from property owners who feel their valuation is inaccurate. This past year saw a dramatic drop in petitions—usually over 100—with only 26 requests.
This commission determines pay for the mayor and the Boyne City Commission. Commission pay was increased slightly in 2017, with the most recent pay increase before that having occurred in 2013.
Boyne District Library Board
The library’s new director Monica Kroondyk talked about the library’s services. More than 500 new library cards were issued in 2017.
She also discussed the Boyne Reads program, designed to get the whole community reading and talking about the same book together.
The library also turns 100 in 2018. The library is challenging people to read 100 books this year in honor of the milestone.
Kroondyk also talked about the bookmobile the library has acquired.
Boyne City Commission
Neidhamer said the newly elected commissioners are strong additions to the board.
He also talked about the city’s new facilities.
“This has exceeded our expectations,” Neidhamer said. “And, I think it is our responsibility to give a safe, clean, and efficient environment for our over 80 employees, and we thank the City of Boyne City for voting this in.”
Boyne City Public Schools
Boyne City Public Schools Superintendent Pat Little thanked the community for good and trusting partnerships.
“One of the things we’re excited about is the passing of the enhancement millage,” Little said, adding that the school system will be offering a tuition-free four-year-old education for local families.
He said that’s about a $5,000 value to a family with a qualifying child.
Little said the school is working to put together an electric utility lineman training program with help from Great Lakes Energy.
Boyne Area Chamber of Commerce
Ashley Cousens, the Executive Director of the Boyne Area Chamber of Commerce said her board is working on strategic planning this year. Also, the chamber hired a new office manager.
“And, of course, we continue to plan for all of our upcoming events,” she said.