2017-01-26 / Local News

Housing committee gets to work

By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

A special “housing strategy” committee of the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners met last week in a larger meeting room than originally planned to accommodate a larger crowd of audience members than anticipated.

However, the composition of the 20-member audience was not what commissioners expected. All the “public comment” offered at the meeting was in favor of the County Board establishing a goal to become more involved in solving Leelanau County’s “affordable housing problem.”

Prior to the meeting, commissioners including the board’s two Democrats, District No. 4 Commissioner Ty Wessell and District No. 5 Commissioner Patricia Soutas-Little, said they’d heard that the county’s Republican Party organization was urging Republicans to show up at the committee meeting to express opposition to the County Board establishing any goal related to affordable housing.

Indeed, last year, Republican Party members showed up in force at meetings of a Leelanau County Housing Task Force that was formed in response to a “housing goal” set by the County Board in 2016. Republican opposition to the county playing any role in influencing Leelanau County’s housing market or expending taxpayer dollars to subsidize more affordable “workforce housing” was sharp and strong.

While several well-known members of the Leelanau County Democratic Party, including party chair Gwenne Allgaier, attended the Jan. 19 special committee meeting, there was little sign of Republican Party involvement. As the Thursday morning meeting began, the chair of the Leelanau County Republican Party, Karan Josephus, was already on her way to Washington, D.C. to witness the inauguration of President Donald Trump on Friday.

Soutas-Little chaired the special committee meeting. The two other committee members are Republicans: District No. 3 Commissioner Will Bunek, who is also the county Board Chairman, and Distrrict No. 6 Commissioner Casey Noonan.

Following a 40-minute discussion, the special committee agreed in a 3-0 vote to present a set of recommendations to the full County Board for consideration at its next executive meeting on Feb. 14.

The special committee has recommended that the county establish a Housing Committee under the county Planning Commission comprised of representatives from the County Board, non-profits, local governments, the Leelanau Peninsula Economic Foundation, developers, investors and the county planning office “to develop and promote partnerships and efforts that support expansion of housing for Leelanau families, young professionals, business owners and workforce service workers.”

Bunek said he hoped the committee would not simply “create a plan indicating that we need to have an action plan.”

Bunek said the Planning Commission’s new Housing Committee should set specific action goals rather than propose yet another plan.

Action goals proposed by the special committee last week include an effort to conduct a county-wide review of zoning ordinances “to consider zoning policy options for housing that expand flexibility in developments.”

The county has already applied for “2-percent” casino revenue sharing funds from the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians that could underwrite much of the cost of conducting a comprehensive review of village and township zoning ordinances in relation to housing issues.

Other action goals include creating an inventory of “available housing resources;” convening a “stakeholder” meeting of many of the same groups that served on the Housing Task Force last year; developing a 2017-2022 Housing Plan for review by the Leelanau County Planning Commission; and participating in Michigan Economic Development Corporation programs focused on housing.

Bunek said that the county will be looking for interested members of the public to serve on the Planning Commission’s new Housing Committee – assuming the County Board authorizes its creation next month.

Bunek said anyone interested in applying to serve on the proposed new Housing Committee should contact the county administrator’s office for an application.

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