Planning Commission moves forward

The Lake County Planning Commission (LCPC), formed in March, 2011, pursuant to the Lake County Planning Commission Ordinance No. 25, will deliver the draft Master Plan for Lake County to the Board of County Commissioners in January 2012 for their inputs. After all inputs are incorporated into the plan and the Commissioners give their approval, Lake County’s Master Plan will be published. You are probably asking yourself what is a master plan, and why do we need one? A Master Plan creates the policy that will guide the County’s decision making for future land use and infrastructure development. It identifies key planning issues for the County, describes the character of the community, outlines goals and policies, describes current and future land uses and makes recommendations as to how to execute and realize those goals and policies. When applying for grant monies for various projects, a Master Plan is essential to putting Lake County on an even footing with the competition. The competition for grant money is tough and will only get tougher in these poor economic times. Preserving and maintaining the current infrastructure and expansion of that infrastructure requires advance planning. That is why master plans generally stretch 20 years into the future and lay out long and short term strategies. Master plans for counties are now required by the State of Michigan.

Another very popular question asked the LCPC is “You’re not doing zoning, are you?” NO. The LCPC has no regulatory powers. All zoning powers reside with the townships. The LCPC will serve as a coordinating body to ensure that all planning and zoning enacted at the township level is compatible with the general guidelines and recommendations of the Master Plan.

The County chose to use the Community Development concept recommended by the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Agency. This method, which has been used successfully by other counties, allows us to create a plan that is based on the vision of the community and combines their expressed needs and desires with the land’s suitability and capability to sustain those needs and desires. The USDA Rural Development Agency has assigned a Community Development Specialist to consult and work with the County and LCPC commissioners to teach us the process, help to define goals, gather data and help us carry it to completion. The Michigan State University (MSU) Extension Service is supporting the LCPC as well. They have advised us on what items are required to be addressed by the master plan and on what strategies to incorporate into the plan to effectively pursue our short and long term goals and cover all contingencies. They will be providing the technical expertise and map making capabilities required to produce the plan and are assembling the document as well.

Gathering data and writing a master plan can be a very costly process. With the help of the USDA Rural Development, the MSU Extension Service, and the LCPC planning commissioners gathering data, the County has been able to save thousands of dollars and create a first rate product. We are grateful to the USDA Rural Development and the MSU Extension Service for their assistance.

To gather data for the master plan, the LCPC used data from the recent 2010 U. S. Census, met with county department heads, did community assessment exercises at the monthly township meetings, with local groups and organizations, and conducted a Robo call survey. It will come as no surprise to most of you that the need for county-wide, reasonably priced High Speed Internet service and the lack of jobs were at the top of the list of weaknesses in the county. The top strengths of the county were our natural resources/environment followed by outdoor recreation and the rural lifestyle. Most often mentioned potential opportunities for the county were attracting more businesses (preferably “green”) to create jobs and a community/recreation center with a gym and a pool, more high tech jobs and adult education. The most often mentioned threats to the County were misuse of the environment, U.S. and Michigan economies, few job opportunities and poverty, and young people leaving the county.

There are two very important demographics that emerged from the 2010 Census that will have a large impact on our future planning. The first is that we are becoming a senior county with 50 percent of our population over 50 years of age. The median age is expected to rise to 60 by the year 2025. The second is that 24 percent of Lake County’s residents live below the poverty line as compared to 16 percent statewide.

There are many challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, and it is hoped that the forthcoming Master Plan for Lake County will be an integral part of the planning process and contribute to Lake County’s future successes. To look at all of our Community Assessment Exercises and other things about the LCPC, please visit the county’s website and select the Planning Commission link.