If you missed out on Monday’s Boyne City Commission Candidate Forum, don’t worry. Boyne City Gazette—which co-hosted the event with the Boyne Area Chamber of Commerce—has a detailed story free of charge to better inform residents.
By Chris Faulknor Publisher & Benjamin J. Gohs, Editor
The three candidates for two Boyne City Commission seats—Boyne City Mayor Tom Neidhamer, Boyne City Commissioner Hugh Conklin, and challenger Barbara Malpass-Young—met Monday Oct. 28 at Boyne City Hall for a candidate forum to introduce themselves and answer audience questions ahead of the Tuesday Nov. 5 election.
Following are highlights from the forum.
Conklin, who has been involved in Boyne City for more than 24 years, originally moved here with his wife and children to operate a community newspaper.
“At the time, we felt like the community was starting to gel—there were new businesses opening, the Downtown Development Authority which is now Main Street was being organized, and the new football field was close to becoming a reality. Then, a millage was passed to build a new high school and remodel the old high school into a middle school,” he said. “And good things have been happening ever since. The community is realizing its potential and energizing the residents. We all have an enormous amount of pride for our town. Boyne City has also attracted interesting people and important investments that have made a very positive impact.”
Conklin said, if he is reelected to the city commission, he feels he can help keep the momentum moving forward and maybe even help speed up the pace.
“[N]ow, after four years on the commission, I have learned a lot and I am confident I can be even more effective working with Boyne City residents, city administration, and fellow commissioners to help lead the community forward,” he said.
Conklin said he has experience operating small business and likes to think of himself as someone who keeps an open mind and listens.
“I freely admit what I don’t know but I work hard to educate myself so I fully understand an issue before voting on it,” Conklin said. “I also strongly believe that we can’t keep doing things the way they have always been done but we need to think creatively to meet challenges and embrace opportunity.”
In addition to serving on the Boyne City Commission, Conklin works with Northern Community Mediation, as a board member and volunteer with Challenge Mountain, as a board member for Unity Hall, and as a volunteer for the Good Neighbors Food Pantry.
Malpass-Young said she and her husband were both born and raised in the area.
She volunteers with the Boyne District Library doing some of the children’s programs, Boyne Area Chamber of Commerce, the Fourth of July Committee, helped raise funds for the Veterans Memorial as well as working part-time at two local retail stores.
“I hope that everybody understands my reason for running,” Malpass-Young said. “I really enjoy living here. I don’t want to fix what isn’t broken. I do appreciate all that is here—the beauty of it. My big concerns is protecting our waterways, like Lake Charlevoix and Boyne River, and one of the ways we can do that is through lack of development on the waterfront. I just don’t believe in that. I don’t want to look like Round Lake over in Charlevoix.”
She added that Boyne City is popular with visitors from all over the country because of the town’s spirit and its high level of safety.
Niedhamer said his family has been in Boyne City for five generations.
“I am running for reelection for the Boyne City Commission because I enjoy and am very proud of being part of the team that is making the right decisions that are beneficial to Boyne City,” he said. “Boyne City is rocking it. Using our city goals … as a guiding path … we’re also using our excellent staff for their expertise and leadership, we are using our city commission and other boards for their policy-making and decision-making, we are using our partnerships with the chamber, Main Street, the schools, our outstanding volunteers.”
Niedhamer added, “Using all of them, we are on an exciting journey.”
Niedhamer offered several examples of the positive developments occurring in the area, including the Lofts on Lake Street project which he said will help address dire housing needs and economic development, in addition to new plans for trail systems, and numerous new businesses investing in the community.
“This is why I want to re-run, to be part of keeping Boyne City moving forward with a positive force,” he said. “I have the time, I have the knowledge, I have the experience, and the passion to do just that.”
Conklin said the city should continue to build strong relationships with the business community and to develop the assets in the community to attract people.
“It appears, from what I read and try to understand, (when) people are really attracted to a place and they want to be in a place, that that’s a good job magnet; and it’s where people want to make investment,” he said. “And, so, I think we need to continue to support parks. I think we need to continue to protect our lake shore. I think we need to continue to enhance our downtown and help revitalize our historic buildings and the quality of what our downtown is, continue to support the library, to continue to partner with the school—a great school system will attract new families.”
Conklin added, “There’s a whole range of things. I think it’s just really important that we keep an open mind to any opportunity and really investigate it.”
Malpass-Young focused on the things that are most important to people looking to move to a new area such as Boyne City.
“The one thing that people are looking for when they come into an area, before they even look for a house or think about housing … they’re looking at the availability of goods and services … in the area and then they’re looking at housing,” she said. “And I think that we have all of those things available.”
Malpass-Young said the city has great personnel, from city police to public works employees.
She did say people are looking for homes with places for their children to play.
She also said the city should pay more attention to senior citizens.
“They have a lot to say and unfortunately their voices are not being heard,” Malpass-Young said. “They feel rejected and they don’t have a lot of confidence in our … city commission because of that.”
Malpass-Young said perhaps the city should look at developing housing outside the city limits where taxes are cheaper.
Neidhamer said, “Our job in economic development is to partner with any company that we feel is a good fit—and I’m referring to recruiting. We have a very good relationship with MEDC … we have a very good relationship with Northern Lakes Economic Alliance. We were the fifth city in the State of Michigan to become a Redevelopment Ready Community. That means the state kind of gave us a report card and we passed all with straight A’s, then the state puts you in very good position for grants, for recruiting, for assisting in making our economy stronger. So, we have developed those relationships and that has brought development money into town.”
Neidhamer said the reason businesses come to Boyne City is because of the relationships the city has developed and the infrastructure it has built and supports.
Malpass-Young said she isn’t sure and that the matter should be investigated.
“I know there’s such a demand for it,” she said. “I came up in the ‘60s and early ‘70s and what people had available then compared to what we have available now—it’s much stronger.”
Malpass-Young added, “I do know that it needs to be looked at very sincerely and very closely before any decisions were made.”
Niedhamer said the statewide recreational marijuana vote that passed was approved locally by approximately 60 percent of the voters.
“We chose to opt out—meaning we are not open to a business, at this point, for recreational marijuana,” Niedhamer said.… “We have an option to opt in if and when we decide to. What we decided was we need more public input as to how we should proceed.”
He said the city is in the process of forming a committee made up of board members and citizens of the city.
Conklin said the city should engage with the community on what it wants.
“It’s a very emotional argument. There’s people on all sides,” he said. “It’s really important finding an independent person not necessarily associated with the community who can explain all the ins and outs.”
Niedhamer said everyone benefits from new businesses and jobs downtown, biking and walking trails, and other improvements to the city.
Conklin said he understands when some people complain about too many downtown events in the summer and he appreciates how some people feel about that.
“On the other hand, in no way do I think it’s impacted full-time residents from moving to Boyne City,” he said. “But I do think there’s an issue of maybe too much of the streets being crowded … through the summer every weekend. I can see where the local community has some issues about that.”
Malpass-Young said the city has done a great job of attracting tourism.
“But, it is the year-round residents that shoulder the tax burden for that,” she said, adding that the city is funding marina improvements like additional boat slips while most people who live and work in Boyne City can’t afford a boat slip.
Conklin said it is a very complicated issue that involves zoning, personal property rights, and impact on neighbors.
“I think it’s necessary for us to have a real community discussion about that and find out what people think and feel,” he said. “I’m torn. We don’t have a lot of hotel-motel accommodations in Boyne City.”
Conklin said whether this issue is impacting the area’s housing supply is uncertain.
Malpass-Young agreed that it is a very complicated issue.
“One side of me says I don’t think we have the right to tell a homeowner and taxpayer what they can do with their property,” she said…. “I recognize that people are saying there’s not enough places for people to live, there’s not enough affordable housing. Really? I talked to three people just this past weekend … on Sunday alone and those young people have moved here. They’re buying fixer-uppers. OK, so you can’t have a big brand-new fancy house. I didn’t either when I first started out. I pay more for a vehicle right now than I paid for my first home.”
She added that the issue needs to be carefully looked at before proceeding.
Niedhamer said vacation rentals are valuable to the city because it means more visitors keeping their money local.
However, Niedhamer said, too many vacation rentals could mean fewer homes for full-time families. He also asked whether the city is losing a sense of neighborhood. He closed by saying the matter deserved more thought.
Malpass-Young said the area within the city limits seems to be well-used already.
Niedhamer said the city has completed an inventory of properties around the city which could be put to better use.
Findings from that study are helping the city determine what to do with local parks space, as well as structures and land which could become areas for businesses or housing.
Conklin said the open parcels between buildings could be better used and he also said Sunset Park could be put to more use if it were improved upon to make it more of a draw for the downtown—potentially with paths and flowers, seating areas, and picnic areas.
Niedhamer said he was planning to go to a seminar on that very topic.
“Our marina is in bad shape,” he said… “The docks are just barely above water level.”
Niedhamer added, “We need some engineering. We need some help. We’re not alone. The whole state—anybody bordering the Great Lakes—is having the same difficulty.”
Conklin said the city doesn’t really have the resources to do much about it. He did say people should be practical in future planning and development regarding where they build because the levels of the lake—which people feared in recent years were dropping too drastically—do fluctuate.
Malpass-Young said there isn’t much to be done.
“I don’t believe in wasting money to reclaim land,” she said.
Conklin said the requirements are too high and that they inhibit downtown development.
He also said the recent parking study recommendations should be implemented to improve the matter. He said managing parking—something the city is not doing now—would improve the situation.
Malpass-Young said parking is limited and asked why downtown developments are getting tax abatements if there is not enough parking.
“We do have a parking problem and, unless we start taking away parkland and give it up for parking, that is an issue we have,” she said. “So, going forward, don’t develop downtown.”
Niedhamer said the parking study shows there is plenty of parking.
“Development downtown can be impeded if we require too much parking,” he said. “We have been tasked as a planning commission to look at that and we have actually … reduced parking requirements for development in certain neighborhoods in certain areas of downtown.”
A stipulation on the city’s purchase of the property was that it not erect any buildings.
Malpass-Young said she wants the plot to remain open.
Niedhamer said the conservation easement prohibits any buildings to ever be put on the property.
Conklin also acknowledged the existing agreement, adding that there are great opportunities for the city to have a nice park there.
Neidhamer said “big box” stores would not be a good fit for Boyne City, and said the county’s transit already provides a number of opportunities to travel around the county and beyond.
Conklin said he would not do anything to bring those types of stores to the area. He also said supporting local businesses should be the priority.
He added that the county transit is a good option for residents.
Malpass-Young said the transit does an excellent job taking people up to the hospital and stores in Petoskey. She also said large stores wouldn’t work in Boyne City.
Conklin said the project was worth the money spent and that it is a great asset to the community but he struggles with its location and what could have been done with that waterfront land.
“No, I don’t think that this was a good location for the city hall. I don’t think that it’s an effective use of space … or taxpayers dollars,” said Malpass-Young.
Niedhamer said he fought hard for the project and its location.
“This building is used seven-days-a-week,” he said… “It’s a hub and it’s been just a fantastic facility.”
Niedhamer said the city studied the matter for nearly 16 years to determine where to put the new facility and how much it would cost.
“We explored every piece of property that the city owned or didn’t own, that we could buy, to make it fit into it elsewhere,” he said. “Why is it good here? Because this is the hub of the community.”
Malpass-Young said she isn’t sure what to do with the goose problem.
Niedhamer said there have been discussions on the matter and that it needs to be addressed with an environmentally safe and cost-effective measure.
Conklin said this is a problem all over the country but in the meantime it needs to be dealt with by, perhaps, cleaning it up on a weekly basis for the short-term.
Niedhamer said the city needs to develop a maintenance ordinance to prevent people from letting their homes and properties become “rundown.”
Conklin said there is a real need for property maintenance standards and that the city is working toward that.
He said there is a large swing between nice expensive homes and less desirable homes and sometimes there is an economic component and that the city should be sensitive to homeowners who maybe cannot afford to make their properties look as nice as those who can afford to.
Malpass-Young said she hesitates telling people what to do with their property but that there are safety issues involved with homes which fall into disrepair.
Malpass-Young said the city will maintain itself while keeping costs and taxes low.
“I like the fact that you can walk downtown,” she said. “I like the fact that you can drive around safely and we don’t have the traffic that Charlevoix and Petoskey do.”
Niedhamer said, “If we do nothing, we go backwards. So what we have to do is have a five-year plan and a 10-year plan, which we do.”
He said in five years the city is looking at taking downtown properties that are vacant or underdeveloped and make them vibrant. To create housing and retail.
Conklin said five years from now the Lakes on Loft project will be completed. He said the Open Space will be beautiful and well-used. And, the city should have a bike path connecting the Charlevoix trail to the Boyne Falls trail.