July 2007 News
Hancock Council hears public opposition to proposed land sale
By Michele Anderson
HANCOCK -- Hancock City Council members recently listened to several local
residents express opposition to a proposed land sale of City-owned waterfront
property on Swedetown Creek and Portage Lake.
At a public hearing on July 18, citizens' comments were unanimous in asking
the Council to reconsider plans to sell Government Lot #5, immediately east of
Swedetown Creek along Highway 203.*
Former Hancock City Councilwoman Mary Tuisku said she had recently had a
ride on the Keweenaw Star, during which Swedetown Creek was one of the elements of the City of Hancock pointed out to everyone
on the boat.
"Swedetown Creek is very, very much a part of the City of Hancock,"
Tuisku said. "It's part of our heritage. It's one of
the things that makes Hancock unique."
Former Hancock City Councilwoman Mary Tuisku addresses the Hancock City
Council during a public hearing on July 18, 2007 in the City Hall Council
Chambers. Tuisku expressed opposition to the proposed sale of land near
Swedetown Creek. Council members pictured are Bill Laitila, mayor pro-tem, and
James Hainault, councilman at large. (Photo © 2007 Michele Anderson)
"I think one of the things you have to consider is that once the land is sold, it's gone
forever," Tuisku said. "Our
children, grandchildren, great grandchildren will be deprived of some of the fun things that my kids and
your kids are experiencing and have experienced down at Swedetown Creek."
City Manager Glenn Anderson explained options for possible sale of three or
four parcels immediately east of Swedetown Creek and near a recreational spot
used as a boat launch at the place where the creek empties into the Portage. One
parcel has frontage on the creek, and two have frontage on the Portage. The
smallest parcel is only .11 acre with 18.52 ft. of M203 frontage and 25.51 ft.
of Portage frontage and has a building belonging to a contiguous landowner.
This photo shows part of Swedetown Creek from the east side, south of highway
M-203, part of Government Lot #5, which the City of Hancock is considering
selling. Portage Lake is in the background, to the right. (Photo © 2007 Gustavo
said she was not opposed to the Council selling the small parcel to the
contiguous owner, nor to the City's second proposal -- to sell the former
Department of Public Works (DPW) property at the foot of Birch Street.
"We are not proposing selling anything on the west side of Swedetown Creek
that we own, that the DNR has
historically used as a boat launch, even though there are no boat launch facilities
there," Anderson said.
The State of Michigan had leased the boat launch area in the past. The city
has no current development plans for that but could add improvements in the
future, Anderson noted, possibly to include some shallow boat launches.
This photo shows an area on the west side of Swedetown Creek, on Portage
Lake, where the public has access for launching small boats, fishing, etc. The
City of Hancock also owns this property and does not have plans to sell it at
present. (Photo © 2007 Gustavo Bourdieu)
recommended the Council send the Swedetown proposal back to the Planning Commission and the
Recreation Commission to determine a way to put both the Creek property and the
boat launch property into a protective-type category that would assure the
property will be there for hundreds of years to come.
"I would suggest that you take a look at the big picture. I've been a part of councils in the past, when we made some wonderful decisions and we made some very
poor decisions," Tuisku added. "Don't let the short-term gain deprive citizens of access to that gem of our waterfront."
Susan Burack, Hancock resident and member of the Houghton County Planning
Commission, said she agreed completely with Tuisku.
"I've been working for the past several years with community groups; and universally, 100%, people love living in Hancock; and their first request is a walkable city
with access to the waterfront," Burack said. "And we don't have a long-term plan or a long-term vision for the city."
Hancock resident Ann Pace submitted a written statement to the Council and
also addressed them on the importance of looking at both the short-term gain and the
long-term costs of selling the Swedetown Creek property.
Hancock resident Ann Pace addresses the Hancock City Council at the July 18
public hearing on proposals to sell city-owned waterfront properties. Pace
emphasized the long-term economic effect on the city as a whole if the land
sales remove public access to waterfront. (Photo ©
2007 Michele Anderson)
"I think it's very easy to get caught up in the return to the city from the sale of
property and from the increased tax revenue that comes as a result of
development," Pace said. "And I think what's much more difficult to assess is the cost -- the pure economic cost -- of diminishing the quality of life
in the community as a result of selling such properties."
Pace pointed out that it's not difficult to find communities that have made massive and expensive efforts to improve
walkability, access to waterfront, etc., in order to increase the incremental value of properties in the city as a whole.
"Those properties that are not on the waterfront have diminished value because there is not public access
to the waterfront," Pace noted.
Allyson Jabusch of Hancock requested the Council table the vote and send the
proposal back to the Planning Commission.
"I'm here to ask the Council to instruct the Planning Commission to hold another public
hearing -- at least on the sale of Government. Lot #5 -- a real hearing so that citizens and taxpayers can
participate in the planning," Jabusch said.
During the July 18 public hearing, preceding the Hancock City Council
meeting, Allyson Jabusch, standing at the podium, requests that the Council
table the vote on Government Lot #5 near Swedetown Creek and instruct the Planning Commission to hold another public
hearing. (Photo ©
2007 Michele Anderson)
Jabusch said the public needs to hear and understand what is being planned and why.
Hancock resident Merle Kindred mentioned the new condominiums built on former
City of Hancock property near the Portage Lift Bridge in conjunction with her
opposition to the City's present land sale proposal.
"I was out of the country for several months. this winter, and I returned in mid-March and was shocked at
what I saw," Kindred said in her comments to the Council. "And I'm shocked at the rapidity of this decision to sell this lot at
Merle Kindred of Hancock, standing, addresses the City Council during the
July 18 public hearing. Kindred expressed her shock at the new condominiums
built on former City of Hancock property near the Portage Lift Bridge in
conjunction with her opposition to the City's present land sale proposal at
Swedetown Creek. (Photo © 2007 Michele Anderson)
Noting criticism of the condominiums near the bridge, Kindred said, "The people who move in there will pay a lot of money for that view, but the view has been stolen from all
the rest of us."
Kindred told the Council she supports idea of looking for the long-term --
the future of the community -- not the short-term gain.
Pat Toczydlowski of Osceola Township said she sends her children to Hancock
schools through the Schools of Choice program.
"I agree strongly with all the comments that have been brought forward,"
Toczydlowski said. "The city should take pride in its schools, should take pride in its natural resources."
She pointed out that other local communities have school forests as part of
their science curriculum, that Hancock Schools have extremely talented science
personnel and that the Swedetown property, with its beautiful river, is "a
perfect outdoor classroom."
Toczydlowski noted Hancock is losing students by Schools of Choice to other
schools that have such programs.
"I agree with Mary Tuisku that it should be given permanent protection,"
Toczydlowski added. "I really think that Swedetown Creek belongs in the public domain."
Paul Nelson, a resident of Anthony Street in Hancock, said one of his
concerns was that the value of the lot on the east, should the City sell it,
would diminish even if the City keeps the lot on the west of Swedetown Creek.
Once the new landowner cuts down trees and brush, the public using the boat
launch area west of the creek could disturb that landowner by walking near
his/her house. Likewise, having private property just opposite the public access
destroy the value of that recreational land for those who use it.
Hancock resident Paul Nelson asks City Council members to consider reasons
for not selling the property at Swedetown Creek (Photo © 2007 Michele Anderson)
"I live there at Swedetown Creek," Nelson said. "I either ride my bicycle or walk past it almost every evening. I
really urge you not to sell it."
Evan McDonald, executive director of the Keweenaw Land Trust (KLT), addressed
the Council on behalf of the members of his organization, a local group that works to protect land resources and natural
resources associated with land, including culture, aesthetics, habitat and
recreational opportunities. He said KLT membership includes several dozen
the City of Hancock.***
McDonald said the public needs more time to hear what is proposed and to understand the choices.
He noted he was curious about the criteria the Recreation Commission uses for establishing priorities for the city's recreation plan
and about the criteria and process the Planning Commission uses to consider types of
appropriate land uses, including public access.
Evan McDonald, executive director of the Keweenaw Land Trust (KLT), addresses
the Council on behalf of the members of KLT, a local group that works to protect land resources and natural resources associated with
land. (Photo © 2007 Michele Anderson)
"If there isn't a clear process in place, it's hard for the public to evaluate and understand the choices
before them and the decisions that are made," McDonald said. "The KLT often partners with units of
government. We would be willing to work with the City of Hancock to explore possibilities for land use planning."
With little discussion, Council members voted during their meeting to table the vote on the
proposed sale of Government Lot 5 at Swedetown Creek and to send the proposal
back to the City of Hancock Planning Commission, who have included it on their
agenda for the meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, July 23, in the City Hall Council
councilwoman at large, said she hadn't heard a single person speak in favor of
selling the Swedetown Creek property.
Mikaela Nylander, second from left, mayor of Porvoo, Finland, Hancock's
sister city, speaks to City Council members about local government in Finland
and some differences from Hancock's. Lisa McKenzie, right, councilwoman at
large, supported listening to the public comments and sending the Swedetown land
sale proposal back to the Planning Commission. Also pictured are Karen Haischer,
left, clerk, and Sarah Baratono, councilwoman for Ward II. (Photo © 2007
"I think we need to listen to our citizens," she said.
Council discussed briefly and approved (with a unanimous vote) options to sell
four waterfront lots at the former DPW site. (No one spoke against this sale
during the hearing.)
Mikaela Nylander, mayor of Porvoo, Finland, Hancock's
sister city, said she was impressed by the fact that in Hancock the public is
present when there is a proposal for a decision.
Nylander and Porvoo City
Manager Marcus Henricson were welcomed to the meeting as part of their official
visit to Hancock.**
* See the Public
Notice for the hearing with a description of the properties and
** See photo of the City Council members with the two
Finnish visitors on Keweenaw
*** Update (correction): We regret an error in
this quote earlier. KLT has several hundred households in its total
membership, of which several dozen members are in Hancock.
Gustavo Bourdieu is a photographer for Keweenaw Now.
Visit Keweenaw Now's new blog: www.keweenawnow.blogspot.com
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