DOUGLAS WATERFRONT MASTER PLAN

CLIENT

CITY OF DOUGLAS

 

LOCATION

DOUGLAS, MICHIGAN

 

SERVICES

WATERFRONT MASTER PLANNING, COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

Douglas Waterfront Master Plan

The Village of Douglas on the west side of Michigan is home to just a few thousand people on the shores of Lake Michigan, but its downtown lies on the shores of Kalamazoo Lake. Boating, marinas, and local shops are the economic lifeblood of the community, and like most waterfront resort communities, they wanted to extend the summer season to have greater economic vitality year round. They also wanted more public waterfront, improved streetscape connections to the waterfront, and to protect the views of the lake.

 

The most significant challenges the community faced included sedimentation of the lake and associated huge dredging costs to maintain the viability of the marinas and boating, as well as protecting precious views of the water from private development pressure.

Through an extensive community involvement process, we led individual stakeholder meetings and held community visioning session to help us understand the community’s goals and vision. This process identified $30 million in community goals, one third of which was dedicated solely to dredging and harbor management. The opportunity to greatly expand public access to the waterfront arose with the potential public acquisition of a major waterfront parcel and marina, but the risk also included that same parcel falling into private hands and a proposed development at odds with the community’s vision.

 

The solution was to identify a range of potential partners to help the Village of Douglas fund acquisition of the waterfront parcels and resolve the dredging issues. Potential partners included MEDC, USFWS, MDNR/MNRTF, the County, and others. The challenge for Douglas was “what if we can’t secure enough grants and partnerships to fund the project?” They also wanted to know how they could expand year round residency and economic vitality, which the range of parks and open space desired was unable to provide.

 

The answer was found through recognition that while few in the community wanted more development, they recognized that some development was necessary and beneficial. The question became “where should it go, and what does it look like?” It was obvious that the only available land was the private parcel for sale, and the potential to leverage development pressure to achieve community goals could be achieved on the waterfront. We facilitated a design charrette where we constructed three simple models of the waterfront, and outlined how specific commercial and residential development units could generate sufficient taxable revenues to support ongoing investment in community assets like dredging and acquisition of public waterfront spaces and parks.

 

Residents were given Lego blocks at an accurate scale to place on the model, and asked to determine how much of the $30 million they wanted to fund through development. This allowed them to both set priorities for what was most important, how much it would cost, and what they felt was an acceptable approach to paying for it. Without any outside direction, the groups separated into a minimum group ($10 million for dredging only), a moderate group ($20 million), and one group that wanted everything on the list ($30 million) if we could find a way to pay for it. The proceeded to identify the appropriate number of Legos and place them where desired on the models of the waterfront. What we all learned together is that by placing 100 units near the water’s edge, the “minimum” group managed to pay for the dredging but also block all the key views. On the other hand, the group that wanted it all managed to carefully locate 300 units upland along an existing hillside to both pay for all of the development while protecting the views.

 

The key outcome of the exercise was a comfort level among the community that they could achieve their goals without compromising their waterfront. As we work on building partnerships, the number of units of development that might be needed goes down. While negotiations with the landowner continue, the Village of Douglas is aggressively pursuing projects and partnerships that are within their control. Just last November, they secured an MNRTF grant for a $1.3 million acquisition of a key waterfront parcel. By leveraging the existing revenues from boat slips on the property, the property they acquired will generate the revenues needed to fund the 25% matching funds, so there is little or no cost to the residents of Douglas for this property acquisition.

 

The master plan drawing outlines the long term vision for the waterfront, which is now part of the Comprehensive Master Plan. The next steps in bringing this to reality start with preparing a form based code to document and codify the results of the community input process outlining where development is allowed, and what it could look like. Using our development expertise, we will ensure that the form based code is not requiring elements and finishes that make the projects financially impossible to build. To the contrary, while we establish quality standards to ensure protection of the community character, we also leave room for some flexibility in the development to encourage creativity from the private sector.

Douglas Waterfront Master Plan

The Village of Douglas on the west side of Michigan is home to just a few thousand people on the shores of Lake Michigan, but its downtown lies on the shores of Kalamazoo Lake. Boating, marinas, and local shops are the economic lifeblood of the community, and like most waterfront resort communities, they wanted to extend the summer season to have greater economic vitality year round. They also wanted more public waterfront, improved streetscape connections to the waterfront, and to protect the views of the lake.

The most significant challenges the community faced included sedimentation of the lake and associated huge dredging costs to maintain the viability of the marinas and boating, as well as protecting precious views of the water from private development pressure.

Through an extensive community involvement process, we led individual stakeholder meetings and held community visioning session to help us understand the community’s goals and vision. This process identified $30 million in community goals, one third of which was dedicated solely to dredging and harbor management. The opportunity to greatly expand public access to the waterfront arose with the potential public acquisition of a major waterfront parcel and marina, but the risk also included that same parcel falling into private hands and a proposed development at odds with the community’s vision.

The solution was to identify a range of potential partners to help the Village of Douglas fund acquisition of the waterfront parcels and resolve the dredging issues. Potential partners included MEDC, USFWS, MDNR/MNRTF, the County, and others. The challenge for Douglas was “what if we can’t secure enough grants and partnerships to fund the project?” They also wanted to know how they could expand year round residency and economic vitality, which the range of parks and open space desired was unable to provide.

The answer was found through recognition that while few in the community wanted more development, they recognized that some development was necessary and beneficial. The question became “where should it go, and what does it look like?” It was obvious that the only available land was the private parcel for sale, and the potential to leverage development pressure to achieve community goals could be achieved on the waterfront. We facilitated a design charrette where we constructed three simple models of the waterfront, and outlined how specific commercial and residential development units could generate sufficient taxable revenues to support ongoing investment in community assets like dredging and acquisition of public waterfront spaces and parks.

Residents were given Lego blocks at an accurate scale to place on the model, and asked to determine how much of the $30 million they wanted to fund through development. This allowed them to both set priorities for what was most important, how much it would cost, and what they felt was an acceptable approach to paying for it. Without any outside direction, the groups separated into a minimum group ($10 million for dredging only), a moderate group ($20 million), and one group that wanted everything on the list ($30 million) if we could find a way to pay for it. The proceeded to identify the appropriate number of Legos and place them where desired on the models of the waterfront. What we all learned together is that by placing 100 units near the water’s edge, the “minimum” group managed to pay for the dredging but also block all the key views. On the other hand, the group that wanted it all managed to carefully locate 300 units upland along an existing hillside to both pay for all of the development while protecting the views.

The key outcome of the exercise was a comfort level among the community that they could achieve their goals without compromising their waterfront. As we work on building partnerships, the number of units of development that might be needed goes down. While negotiations with the landowner continue, the Village of Douglas is aggressively pursuing projects and partnerships that are within their control. Just last November, they secured an MNRTF grant for a $1.3 million acquisition of a key waterfront parcel. By leveraging the existing revenues from boat slips on the property, the property they acquired will generate the revenues needed to fund the 25% matching funds, so there is little or no cost to the residents of Douglas for this property acquisition.

The master plan drawing outlines the long term vision for the waterfront, which is now part of the Comprehensive Master Plan. The next steps in bringing this to reality start with preparing a form based code to document and codify the results of the community input process outlining where development is allowed, and what it could look like. Using our development expertise, we will ensure that the form based code is not requiring elements and finishes that make the projects financially impossible to build. To the contrary, while we establish quality standards to ensure protection of the community character, we also leave room for some flexibility in the development to encourage creativity from the private sector.

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