Environment Picture

Smart Investments Series: The Dollars and Sense of Smart Growth

The Changing U.P.: Opportunity and anxiety in the great north forests
Crafting a natural blueprint for tomorrow, Keweenaw Peninsula
With a 35% increase in population from 1990 to 2000 and a major divestiture by large corporate forest land owners, the resource and nature-rich Keweenaw Peninsula was facing dramatic and the potentially harmful land use changes at the beginning of the new century.

Instead of relying on too-common models of economic competition and local government fragmentation, the communities of this historically interesting peninsula developed a common agenda for the future—one based on land use and economic development that supports and builds on these cultural resources.

Five volunteer land use planning committees (Allouez, Eagle Harbor, Houghton, Sherman and the Village of Ahmeek) worked with the Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region (WPPDR) to develop Keweenaw County’s updated “Blueprint for Tomorrow” land use plan, an optimistic and sustainable vision intended to nurture the region’s economic and environmental future.

Growing second homes in forest land, Upper Peninsula
While few local governments in the U.P. have the resources to develop visionary and enforceable land use plans, the need to do so has perhaps never been greater.

Nearly a million acres of U.P.’s corporate-owned forest lands have changed ownership over the last year, a dramatic change that could potentially transform the area’s landscape and even undermine its natural resources and economic sustainability. Real Estate Investment Trusts and Timber Investment Management Organizations are the major new landholders of the region. If they undertake extensive second-home and resort-style development along the waterways, lakefronts and roads throughout these remote tracts (as they have in other states), the resulting sprawl growth could easily overwhelm the area.

The planning capacity of local elected officials, the region’s rural infrastructure and the unique “fenceless feel” that characterizes the natural resources of the region could all be undermined.

Questions for your elected Leaders
  1.  What is the state doing to ensure that forest-based activities and land-based industries are supported and viable in Michigan in the 21st Century?
  2. Would you support new local planning and zoning tools intended to help protect the large tracts of wilderness, water frontage and forest in the U.P. from development and fragmentation?
  3.  Are U.P. elected officials provided with adequate resources, training and tools (such as GIS mapping) to effectively guide rapid land use change in the region?
-Brad Garmon, Michigan Environmental Council
RELATED TOPICS: land use, Smart Growth
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