Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Website Traffic

2010 was once again a strong year for traffic on the Village's website. Last year the site had over 12,000 unique visitors, and just under 27,000 total visits. For the year we had 49,000 page requests. This is slightly up from 2009 where we had 45,000 page views.

Since first launching in 2006, the Village's site has grown not only in terms of visitors, but also content every year. By the middle of 2011 we should pass the 200,000 mark for total page views.

No surprise, one of the busiest times of year for the site is the summer. Not only is it frequently checked for information on our fireworks, but also residents have the ability to view their summer Village tax bills. This past year we expanded the tax bill view to also show a breakdown of the total amount.

In 2010 we added the ability to view all of our approved permits for the year. We also added a classifieds page for our residents to sell property, and began posting notices of public hearings on our homepage. In addition to this, we began placing our financial information online for public inspection.

So far in 2011 we have dusted off the old minute books and placed all of our historical minutes online. If there is something you would like to see to the site, please just let us know!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Old Minutes

With the help of our part-time office assistant Nicole, we've scanned and uploaded the minutes from all years of Village incorporation. There are a few gaps. Specifically we are missing, yes missing, Planning Commission minutes from the early part of the last decade.

There are gaps from 2000 until 2004. We will be reaching out to past Planning Commission members to see if by chance they might still have copies of those minutes. While not certain, it is likely that the missing minutes are due to the minutes being taken by Planning Commission members and not Village staff. As such they would have been distributed at the meeting and a hard copy never saved to a Village computer... That is my guess at least.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Year End Reports

On our website we have recently added a couple of year end reports. The first is the 2010 Planning & Zoning Report. This annual report is required under the Michigan Planning Enabling Act. While required under state law, there is no set requirements for what is to be included other than a recap of the zoning activities.

In our report we document not only the events of the past year, but also provide a historical background of past years. This allows a read to see how things have changed over time. For example, there is no suprise to see that in recent years the overall number of permits and new home construction has declined along with the economy.

Another report recently added to the website is our annual Code Enforcement Report. This report shows what type of violations were addressed by the Village in 2010.

Finally, just a reminder that both the Planning Commission and Village Council are scheduled to meet tomorrow.

The Planning Commission will meet at 5 PM. There are three public hearings planned for this meeting.

The Village Council will then meet at 7 PM. There are 5 public hearings planned for this meeting, along with 5 resolutions on the agenda. A complete copy of the agenda and proposed resolutions can be viewed on the Minutes Page of our website.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Isabella Pellet, The Approval Story

As mentioned in a post earlier this week, the Village would like to give a follow-up summary on the unique method used to obtain zoning approval for the Isabella Pellet plant. Last year on February 16th two of the principal investors in the project met with the Village Manager to discuss what they wanted to do. They detailed the idea of constructing a facility to turn wood waste product into a biomass fuel source on property they own here at Lake Isabella.

In reviewing the location it became clear that a rezoning would have to occur. The location of the plant actually would straddle two existing parcels. One zoned Lake Residential-1 and the other zoned East Coldwater Business. In addition to the zoning change that would be required, a site plan would need to be submitted and approved for the project.

The investors asked if this could be done by June 1st. After reviewing the process to amend the zoning and have a site plan approved it became clear to the Village that getting this done would be a challenge. The process to amend the zoning ordinance can be lengthy. Public hearings are required at both the Planning Commission and Village Council before the ordinance can be adopted. Likewise, the notice of the public hearing has to be published at least 15 days prior to the Planning Commission public hearing and 7 days before the Village Council public hearing. In addition to this, until the change went into effect, there would be no legal basis for a site plan review or approval.

In order to meet the needs of the investors, the Village suggested that an alternative method be used, Conditional Rezoning. Conditional Rezoning is a tool that allows for greater flexibility in terms of the approval process in return for assurances from the developer. It is a legally binding contract between a land owner/developer and the local unit of government. In exchange for the land use approval, the land owner voluntarily makes concessions on the project.

In this case a Light Industrial zoning classification was needed. However rezoning such a large parcel to Light Industrial would have been unlikely to gain approval. Our Light Industrial district contains many uses which would not be appropriate for the location. As such, the developers agreed to limit the Light Industrial uses to only certain categories of the permitted uses and none of the special land uses. The agreement also spells out among other things that in the event the plant is no longer in operation the zoning will revert back to the East Coldwater Business classification.

Once the agreement was drafted a public hearing was held before the Planning Commission. Notice of the public hearing was published in The Morning Sun and mailed to all property owners within 300' of the site. Once that public hearing was held, and a recommendation made to the Village Council, a second public hearing was held. Notice of the second public hearing was also published in the Morning Sun. Likewise, throughout the process copies of the Conditional Rezoning agreement could be found on the ordinance page of our website.

A complete copy of the Conditional Rezoning agreement can be viewed by clicking here. A copy has also been recorded at the Isabella County Register of Deeds.

In addition to this agreement, the Village also reviewed and approved a site plan for the project. This was done at the May 11th Planning Commission meeting. The Village Council granted final approval on the Conditional Rezoning agreement at their meeting one week later on May 18th. From the first meeting with the investors to the Council's final approval was 13 weeks to the day, or a total of 91 days.

While an application has not been filed, it is anticipated that the Village will be presented with a request for a personal property tax abatement as allowed under Public Act 198 of 1974. As a precursor for this agreement, the Village created an Industrial Development District at their meeting on April 20, 2010. A complete copy of the Village's abatement policy can be viewed by clicking here.

Our PA 198 abatement policy has been drafted to specifically target growing industries that research shows has the best chance of long-term sustainability. With limited lands available for development, the Village hopes that by targeting specific growth sectors of the economy we will promote a diverse industrial sector to our growing residential and commercial tax base.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Winter thus far...

So far so good... As of January 1st we had used only 11.1% of our winter plowing budget. While the weather outside has been cold, it has been pretty dry this winter. For the entire month of December the crews from Malley Construction spent just over 102 hours plowing streets in the Village. This is in addition to nearly 10 hours spent plowing and salting by Village staff.

For previous La Nińa winters (which this is supposed to be), December has been very hit or miss. In 2007 we spent just under 220 hours plowing in the month of December. When all was said and done for the 2007-2008 winter we saw over 96 inches of snow. The previous 3 La Nińa winters only brought an average of 57 inches of snow to the Village.

So far this winter our very unofficial tally is around 17 inches according to accuweather.com. The dominate weather pattern so far has been a very deep trough in the jet stream resulting in cold air over the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley. This "U" shaped pattern in the jet stream has brought punishing snow storms for the south and blizzards to New England.

What is in store for the rest of the month? According to accuweather.com temperatures will get close to breaking the freezing point on Tuesday of next week. After that things get cold, very cold with forecast daily high temps in the mid-teens.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Isabella Pellet Under Construction

In case you were wondering, and we've had a couple of calls, about what that big green building behind Out-a-Bounds is going to be you are not alone. The building will house a company called Isabella Pellet. This company will operate a molding extrusion facility specializing in the production biomass wood pellets.

According to the Pellet Fuels Institute Pellet fuel is a renewable, clean-burning and cost stable home heating alternative currently used throughout North America. It is a biomass product made of renewable substances – generally recycled wood waste. There are approximately 1,000,000 homes in the U.S. using wood pellets for heat, in freestanding stoves, fireplace inserts, furnaces and boilers. Pellet fuel for heating can also be found in such large-scale environments as schools and prisons. North American pellets are produced in manufacturing facilities in Canada and the United States, and are available for purchase at fireplace dealers, nurseries, building supply stores, feed and garden supply stores and some discount merchandisers.

In short, pellet fuel is a way to divert millions of tons of waste from landfills and turn it into energy.

Later this week we plan a second post on this project detailing the approval process for the project. It marks the first time that Lake Isabella has used the conditional rezoning process with a project.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Black Lab Found on Queens Way

This morning our Code Enforcement Department picked-up a black lab on Queens Way. The animal was without tags, but did have a faded collar and the end of a broken tether cable. If you are missing this friendly boy, he was taken to the Isabella County Animal Shelter. He appears to be a pure blooded lab, male, and missing his left eye. The shelter is located on Isabella Road, north of the freeway and movie theather. They can be reached at 989-773-9721.