Meeting on downtown master plan set

Shoppers walk through downtown St. Joseph earlier this year. A consultant has praised many aspects of the downtown, but he is expected to recommend improvements.

ST. JOSEPH — St. Joseph residents will have an opportunity to weigh in on the draft of long-awaited downtown master plan, with an open house to be held from 4-7 p.m. Nov. 13, commissioners announced Monday.

The plan has been in the works for over a year, with various committees working on aspects of the blueprint for future development. A master plan spells out priorities and allows communities to apply for state grants for projects.

Residents and business owners are being notified of the meeting, and other residents and stakeholders are welcome to attend. Members from Houseal Lavigne, which has been overseeing the drafting of the plan, will be on hand to answer questions.

John Houseal, the lead member, will present the draft to the master plan steering committee at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 6 for final comments. The plan will be presented to city commissioners for final approval.

In an update to committees in August, Houseal, a St. Joseph native, extolled the city’s assets, including its view of Lake Michigan and growing popularity as a tourist destination.

He also pointed out some negatives that he thought could be corrected. The parking lots that line Lake Boulevard don’t have any screening with landscaping or other features, such as decorative walls or fences, he said, calling them “unsightly.” He said he’d like to see that corrected by next summer.

He called Main Street, from Broad Street to the Blossomland Bridge, unsafe and “an eyesore,” and he called for medians and better marked pedestrian crossings. Houseal would like to see improvements along the Broad Street approach into the city, such as welcome signs.

Houseal recommended adding benches, drinking fountains and other features between the bluff and the beach, that he deemed “a no-man’s land,” and landscaped terraces on the bluff itself to provide seating.

The consultant emphasized that these are all proposals that the city will look at over the next 10 years.

Along with the community and business workshops, public input was gathered through online surveys and during the May Antiques on the Bluff, the Krasl Art Fair in July and Chalk the Block in August.

Information on the master plan is available on the city’s website, www.sjcity.com, with a link to provide feedback. The draft plan will be posted on the Friday before the open house.

Fish wish

In other business, commissioners agreed to cast their line in the water with local recreational fishermen who are seeking to shield their catch from commercial operations.

At their last meeting, commissioners heard from representatives of the Michigan Steelheaders Association and the local chapter about legislation that would prohibit commercial boats from catching certain types of fish that the charter captains say are an important part of their business.

Legislation designating who can catch what kind of fish has been introduced in the Michigan House, including a bill sponsored by Rep. Pauline Wendzel, R-Watervliet. Commissioners provided a letter of support for the bills.

A competing bill would allow commercial boats to take in lake trout and other types of game fish.

Advocates for the recreational operations pointed out that this is a $2.3 billion industry statewide, and contributes significantly to the Southwest Michigan economy, as well.

Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak