Initiative backs lakeshore preservation

MARQUETTE – A local initiative, the Marquette Citizens for City Lakeshore Preservation, is conducting a petition drive to keep city-owned land along Lake Superior from further development.

“Our initiative is to save the lakeshore, basically,” MCCLP Chairwoman Rita Hodgins said.

The goal of the petition drive is to put a city ordinance proposal before voters in the Nov. 4 election. The proposed petition reads: “Shall the city enact an ordinance prohibiting private development of buildings and structures on city-owned waterfront property east of Lakeshore Boulevard/Lake Street in perpetuity. The exception to this ordinance would be the Landing Group development north of the Hampton Inn. And, shall the city enact an ordinance requiring that public facilities/structures/buildings constructed on city-owned property east of Lakeshore Boulevard/Lake Street be for public use only, in perpetuity.”

The effort is in response to the Marquette City Commission’s 6-1 vote in March to allow the Upper Peninsula Community Rowing Club to build a 5,450-square-foot boathouse on a parcel of city-owned beach at Founders Landing. The facility, which would accommodate Northern Michigan University rowers as well, would be built into a hill and include a green roof and an observation deck.

At a May city commission work session, alternative sites to the originally proposed spot near Gaines Rock – at the Cinder Pond Marina and an area just south of the Hampton Inn – were discussed, although no decision was made.

At an initial June 9 petition-signing meeting at the Commons, about a third of the 1,240 signatures needed for the issue to be put on the ballot were collected, Hodgins said. Another such meeting is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. June 25 at the Commons on South Third Street.

The deadline to collect the necessary signatures is July 29, with Hodgins noting the MCCLP wants to collect 1,300 signatures before that date.

The words “in perpetuity” are important in the petition drive, according to several people involved in the effort

“We feel we have lost institutional memory, and for years people have said, ‘Nothing more on our lakeshore, period,’ ” Hodgins said.

She said a large boathouse violates that intent, and pointed out boat shell covers are available as an alternative.

“They go on easily,” she said. “If they are damaged by UV rays, then cover them up. People who have delicate things in the water keep them covered.”

Michael Neiger, who also is involved in the ballot initiative, said it has a proactive component as well.

“Even if we can’t stop the boathouse, this will in perpetuity preserve the lakeshore from other city commissioners and private groups wanting to do something in the future, because it will be an ordinance that takes it out of the realm of zoning and what-not,” he said.

Kelly Drake Woodward, rowing club president, said in an email the entire footprint of the proposed parcel essentially would remain open to public use, the only difference being a boat-storage facility would be located under the observation deck.

“And yes, we anticipate that it is reasonable to be locked when not in use,” Woodward said. “Many public buildings have areas that are not open to the general public, or are locked when not in use. If you were paying rent to store your own boat, wouldn’t you expect it to be secured against vandalism or threat?”

Woodward said the rowing club is offering to pay for and maintain the facility for public use with no city financial contribution.

“Marquette already has a private yacht club, marina for private motorized boats, private marine repair and fishing businesses, etcetera, on the lakeshore,” she said. “Is it fair then to arbitrarily exclude a boat-storage building and handicapped launch facility for the human-powered watercraft community?”

Woodward said its benefits are for the community as a whole.

“Wouldn’t it make more sense to worry less about whether a project is publicly or privately sponsored and focus more on public benefit, such as protecting the future ability to develop water-dependent or water-enhancing land uses in unique coastal communities such as the city of Marquette?” she said.

Hodgins said building on the proposed boathouse site Gaines Rock would include harvesting trees in a “very ecologically sensitive, beautiful area.”

Neiger also noted the city has a lot of sand beach and pristine lakeshore.

“if we can’t prevent this boathouse or whatever, we’re still looking at preventing this from occurring in the future,” Neiger said.

City Clerk David Bleau said the city commission has to approve the ballot language for the proposal, which if approved by voters in November would become law.