City must act on Heartwood Forestland tract

The Marquette City Commission on Monday denied an easement request that would have allowed all-terrain vehicle access on portions of the city’s former Heartwood Forestland property.

While we agree that an ATV trail should not be run through sections of pristine forest previously earmarked for conservation, Monday’s commission discussion highlighted yet again the need for the city to address the future of the Heartwood property.

Without a great deal of planning at the front end, the city commission purchased the 2,243-acre property for $5 million in 2005. City representatives have spent the intervening years attempting to craft a plan for the land.

In order to inform the commission’s future decision-making, the board appointed a Heartwood Forestland Ad Hoc Committee. That group presented a report and recommendation which was reviewed by the city planning commission. In the end, the planning commissioners earmarked 1,258 acres for conservation, while labeling 323 acres as “future planned area” and 111 acres as a “potential development” area.

The city commission adopted that blueprint in the spring of 2011, but commissioners have repeatedly mentioned a need to sit down and craft a detailed plan for the Heartwood land, specifically for the “future planned” property, some of which sandwiches M-553 to the south of the city.

When the city commission denied a land sale to the Noquemanon Trail Network last May, then-Mayor John Kivela and Commissioner Fred Stonehouse talked about the need to follow through on the commission’s promise to undertake “a full public process” with regard to the intended use for the “future planned” property.

On Monday, when the commission rejected an easement request by a local group of ATV enthusiasts, commissioners – including Mike Coyne and Sara Cambensy – cited similar concerns yet again.

The time is now. For eight years, the city of Marquette has been paying debt service on thousands of acres of land, yet the commission has repeatedly acknowledged that the plan for the land’s future is cloudy, at best.

We agree with Cambensy, who Monday suggested the city commission’s newly appointed strategic planning subcommittee should address the future of the Heartwood property as soon as possible.

Using its available resources – including numerous well-credentialed planning and zoning officials – the city of Marquette should get to work, finishing the project that began with a land purchase eight years ago.