2017-01-05 / Views

Leelanau stories to follow in 2017

The New Year offers a chance to reflect and plan for change, and 2017 is lining up as a year with potential for great change in Leelanau County. Following are stories to watch.

County Board:

Right, left, or down the middle?

The voters have spoken, or did they? The surface take from the Election of 2017 is that commissioners were handed a mandate to move to the right, creating a more minimalist government. Hold on, though. Only one Democrat on the board failed to win re-election, and she was board chair Peachy Rentenbach, considered more moderate than Ty Wessell or Patricia Soutas- Little. Ms. Rentenbach was beaten by just-seated commissioner Casey Noonan. Mr. Noonan biggest asset at this stage in his young political career just might be sharing a last name of with the Glen Noonan, who before his death was the longest-serving county road commissioner in Michigan.

Now that Republicans hold a 5-2 majority, residents will be watching to see if they retreat from or pursue solutions for generally accepted county challenges, especially low-cost housing. Will Republicans use market-driven remedies — their preferred approaches — to ease the housing crunch for workers? Will they point fingers at local zoning, over which they have no control?

Doing nothing is no answer, and that has been the result, at least so far, of a county Housing Task Force that held its last meeting one year ago.

County commerce:

Are 2016’s gains the new norm?

You can’t describe 2016 as anything but phenomenal for most county businesses. Owners of retail stores we’ve been in contact with all reported record sales. Foot traffic was reflective of visitation at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which set an annual record ... some time in October. And home sales, also, set a new mark some time in early November.

Also up: Drunk driving arrests and traffic congestion, although that’s hard to believe when watching mostly abandoned county roads in January.

But 2016 was truly remarkable insofar as the popularity of all things “Leelanau.”

The past year also left a question: Is this increase the new “normal.”

Our belief is yes. What occurred was not some freak alignment of one-time events. Welcome to the new face of Leelanau County.

As 2017 progresses, we anticipate that major changes must be embraced to keep up with this new face — by governments, businesses and nonprofits. Cracks in the level of service are bound to form while trying to meet new demands with the same tools. Eventually, we will all need to adopt.

Tribal politics:

Growing business, saving traditions

The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians has a major decision ahead of itself in 2017: Should it go ahead with $56 million expansion plans? Designs are complete to build a six-story hotel, new casino and 105-slip marina on the West Grand Traverse Bay waterfront.

Promoters and detractors of the project back their opinions with variances of the same priority. Those favoring expansion say growth in Tribal business is essential to maintaining a source of revenue needed to retain a social safety net for Tribal members as well as cultural programs that preserve the Tribe’s heritage for future generations.

Those opposed say developing the waterfront represents an affront upon that very tradition by severely altering nature’s design for the property.

Another question is at play: Should the Tribe, a regional economic force, concentrate such a large investment in Peshawbestown?

The Tribal election in 2016 shifted the balance of power on the Tribal Council by giving those opposed to the project a louder voice. But the marina and hotel are not going away easily.

It’s one of many decisions about change coming up in 2017.

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