Proposed Downtown / Public Beach Parking Lot
On July 10th a St. James Planning Commission meeting at which
the extension of Main Street was discussed drew considerable attention.
After extended negotiation the township proposed to trade three
lots below the old Medical Center for a ~140' parcel of the beach,
a 10' strip along the south side of the Medical Center (needed
for the EMS to build a second enclosed bay in which to park its
E-car), and $130,000. The money would then be used to create a
34-place parking lot.
Supervisor Don Vyse spoke about the increasing downtown parking
problem and the frustrations he'd experienced in trying to alleviate
it over the past six years. One plan was to create a lot behind
the Shamrock and Beachcomber, but that was rebuffed by the property
owners. The township also tried to work out an arrangement with
Holy Cross, but that too was unsuccessful. So, he said, this seemed
like the best solution.
This location, the supervisor stated, would have three positive
impacts. It would provide parking for downtown, albeit a block
away. It would provide parking for the school, the church, and
particularly the Parish Hall and 85% of the Hall's activities
involved the community at large. And it would reduce the danger
of the present Playground situation; far too often kids come running
out between parked cars into the street, and the current parking
creates a bottleneck that has impeded, according to Gerald LaFreniere,
the ability of the ambulance to reach its destination. The land
swap would increase the Playground and allow it to spread out.
Township Engineer Gary Vogt talked about the design of the lot.
It would be cut into its western bank by 3', he said, reducing
the visibility of parked cars. On the east side the mat of trees
would be thinned by removing the weed trees, the willows
and poplars, but leaving the specimen trees, the pines,
hardwoods, and two apple trees. This land is currently a road
easement, so the green lawn below the Convent, on which outdoor
events are occasionally held, would be relatively unaffected.
An 18" perforated pipe would act as a catch basin for run-off.
Two streetlights, matching those placed downtown, would be installed
on timers to turn off at the appropriate moment. Dr. Leuk and
Dr. Gillingham had examined the site closely, as well as Robyn
Schmidt from the DEQ, and there were no endangered species or
Upon entering the meeting, the chairman announced that anyone
wishing to speak would have to register in advance, and would
then be given three minutes (using an egg timer.) First the Clerk
was asked to report any correspondence; she said one resident
would vote against it, but the BICS Principal was in favor. Then
the people on the registration list, over 15 names, were called
and given a chance to comment on the proposal.
It quickly became apparent that there was a widespread aversion
to installing 13,000 ft2 of asphalt on the heels of so much other
asphalt on roads and driveways. Questions were asked about how
bad the parking problem really was, to which the supervisor stated
that he heard well over a hundred complaints a year about it.
Others asked if there had been a formal study of the parking problem
or a land use study about creating the parking lot.
A green parking lot (grass instead of asphalt) was suggested as
a compromise. This would create difficulties for winter use, it
was said, and would allow vehicle seepage to trickle into the
lake. Appropriating some of the school's land as an alternate
site was also suggested. Rick Speck, the school's business manager,
said this would infringe on the playground, and the school already
felt it was short of land.
Some comments favored the proposal, and other speakers reluctantly
gave their approval, as if the parking lot would be the lesser
of two evils. But several speakers said things like I don't
like the blacktopping of Beaver Island, and received a degree
of applause. This was a nice community the way it was,
one said. We can hardly stand any more beautification,
another added. This is a little pot of gold for a very few
"Surely we're not doing this simply because it won't cost
us anything, someone said. After all, our supervisor
succeeded on 14 of the 16 grant proposals he's written, so funding
at an alternative site should not be a problem at all.
The comments went back and forth. It was said that the present
Hall Corner was an accident waiting to happen. You
can talk about how nice things were back then, someone else
remarked, but are you willing to accept that degree of reduction
in your standard of living? To me, this amount of asphalt is justified
by the good it will achieve, which outweighs the bad.
After the last registered speaker had been offered a chance to
speak, the floor was opened to anyone else who wanted to state
their opinion. It was pointed out that 9 of the first 13 speakers
were against the plan, to which someone else said that many supporters
had not felt a need to speak.
The Planning Commission members were then asked to comment. Bill
McDonough said that this plan was the evolution of many years
of trying to solve the growing parking problem, and represented,
in his mind, a win-win situation. He pointed out that increasing
the public beach would add value to inland lots; the view corridor
established would be an enhancement; the E-car garage would solve
another thorny problem; and the overall safety of the public Playground
would be improved. Don Tritsch added that the economics of the
proposal were a definite positive factor. John Feigen said that
time was also a reason that precluded them from searching indefinitely
for a better location.
At that point a vote on the proposal was requested. It passed
unanimously, to the disappointment of many in the audiencealthough
some people who had been silent congratulated the Commissioners
for a difficult job well done. The opponents of this issue, whose
efforts had been marshaled through some concerted organizing efforts,
could take some solace in at least not having let their reservations
go unexpressed, and having learned how many others share their
view of Beaver Island as a green paradise. They expressed themselves
well enough, extensively and somewhat eloquently, so their views
will no doubt receive greater consideration in the future.
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