Township to focus on Napier Avenue in master plan

BENTON TOWNSHIP — Benton Township trustees made it known what they wish to focus on over the next five years.

After spending more than a year developing its five-year master plan, trustees approved the lengthy document unanimously at Tuesday night’s board meeting.

Among the items highlighted in the master plan includes increasing pedestrian safety along the Napier Avenue corridor. The stretch of road that connects Benton and St. Joseph townships is lacking sidewalk for miles and has led to a handful of pedestrian deaths over the years. 

Clerk Carolyn Phillips, who serves on the board and the planning commission, said she would also like to see the township expand its commercial area and recoup some of its residential numbers.

“We are looking at finding ways to improve our commercial districts,” Phillips said after the meeting. “We need to improve our commercial district and attract more businesses.”

Phillips said it’s been nice to see a lot of wineries open up within the township in recent years. She said those businesses bring in new visitors and tax dollars.

“Business is business for me,” she said. “Any kind of development adds to our tax base. As businesses go out at the mall and elsewhere, you have to have something to counter that loss in revenue.”

Over the past two years, two of The Orchards Mall anchor stores have closed down, as well as the Target store at Fairplain Plaza.

Phillips said there has also been a renewed focus on adding to the township’s population.

She said they lost a few houses over the years, particularly ones in Benton Heights when the Southwest Michigan Regional Airport was expanded.

Since the airport completed its expansion more than a decade ago, Phillips said they’ve moved forward on the Woodbridge Place development, some of the Harbor Habitat for Humanity sites and the Trumpeter Bay housing development.

At Tuesday’s meeting, trustees reviewed the master plan, in addition to attached documents from the Berrien County Planning Commission, the township’s planning commission and St. Joseph Township – which sent a letter affirming the plan.

The planning commission recommended the township’s master plan for approval in a special meeting in September.

The Berrien County Planning Commission reviewed the township’s plan on Oct. 1 and commended the additions, which included how it would benefit from the Ox Creek Watershed Plan, the Napier Avenue Corridor Study and the Napier Avenue Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan.

Phillips said the township sends its master plan to the county, Benton Harbor, Bainbridge Township, Hagar Township, Sodus Township and St. Joseph Township.

“We submit it to any neighboring community to see if they have any concerns or comments,” Phillips said.

“We send it to bordering communities because you may have issues that cross borders.”

The township renews its master plan every five years.

Other agenda items

Trustees granted an applicant an extension on a special use permit for a proposed gas station at 806 E. Napier Ave.

According to a letter from the applicant’s attorney, there was a delay caused by having to change their source of financing.

While the property owner is in the process of finalizing a loan with First Source Bank, they don’t plan to break ground on the project due to the upcoming winter weather.

The extension gives the property owner until April 1, 2020, to apply for a building permit.

The property owner was given approval for a special use permit a year ago to convert the former Payless Tire Store into a convenience store/fuel station.

Township offices will be closed from Nov. 27-29 in observance of Thanksgiving. Treasurer Debbie Boothby and Trustee Carolyn Fowler were absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

The next board meeting is at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 3 at Benton Township Hall.

Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski