Housing Affordability

I know from personal experience that housing isn’t affordable anymore for working-class people in Marquette – my family has had to move 4 times in the past 6 years to save money on rent, and I have struggled to find a single rental property in my price range in the city limits. There is a huge affordable housing shortage in Marquette, and the City Master Plan identifies a need for hundreds of new low- and middle-income housing units in the City of Marquette. In 2018, the median price of a single-family home in Marquette rose 12% in a single  year to an all-time-high of $210,000. In contrast, the median price of a single-family home in Marquette in 1985 was just $108,000 after adjusting for inflation. In a single generation it has become twice as expensive for families to buy a home in Marquette.

As a result, many young people and working families have been forced to move out of town to buy their first home or find affordable rental housing. But the City has done little to address this housing affordability crisis, and market forces alone will never produce affordable housing. The City has a vital role to play in making sure people of all ages and income levels can afford to live here. I believe that we need to consider taking the following steps to make housing more affordable in Marquette:

  1. Appoint an Affordable Housing Committee to study the issue and report back with a set of policy recommendations. The City’s current Strategic Plan calls for the creation of just such a committee, but the City Commission has declined to take this easy step.
  2. Encourage development of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), a.k.a. “granny flats,” to increase density and affordability while maintaining the character of quiet, single-family neighborhoods. The City’s current ADU policy is far too restrictive, and virtually ensures that no ADUs will ever be developed in the City.
  3. Amend our zoning code to allow more “missing middle” housing while maintaining the character of traditional single-family neighborhoodsAside from reducing the onerous restrictions on ADUs as mentioned above, three additional specific policy ideas include:
    1. Allow triplexes and fourplexes in Medium-Density Residential zoning districts (which currently only allow single-family homes & duplexes). Alternatively, we could create a separate residential zoning district which allows these medium-density housing types but which still does not allow larger apartment buildings. To address any concerns from the public, triplexes and fourplexes could be classified as a “Special Land Use,” requiring public review by the Planning Commission and a Special Land Use permit before they could be developed. This would not only facilitate new construction, but also the conversion of large, old single-family homes that are very common in East Marquette. A good example of how this could work without having negative impacts on single-family homeowners or neighborhood character is Ridge Street in East Marquette.
    2. Allow duplexes and Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) in all Marquette neighborhoods. This will allow duplexes and ADUs to coexist alongside single-family homes, expanding the supply of more affordable Missing Middle rental housing without significantly changing the character of existing neighborhoods. The City should also consider reducing setbacks and off-street parking requirements for duplexes and ADUs to make them easier to site and develop.
    3. Expand Medium Density Residential zoning regulations. Medium-Density districts have much smaller minimum lot sizes than Low-Density Residential districts, allowing developers to build smaller, more affordable homes and making homeownership attainable for more Marquette residents. Eventually, Marquette should follow the lead of many comparable communities and states in places like Montana, Vermont, Oregon, and Minnesota, and phase out Low-Density zoning entirely.
    4. Allow more rental housing to be built by easing up on lot coverage limits in Multifamily Residential districts. We currently do not allow apartment buildings to cover more than 20% of the lot on which they are located. Most of our peer communities (Sault Ste. Marie, Escanaba, Bay City, Alpena, Duluth, etc.) allow apartment buildings to cover 35-40% of the lot rather than only 20%. We should increase our lot coverage limit accordingly for Multifamily Residential districts.
  4. Work with developers to ensure that the redevelopment of vacant properties like Founders Landing Parcel 2, the old hospital site, and the Cliffs Dow property all add to the supply of affordable and middle-income housing.
  5. Have the Marquette Brownfield Authority prioritize housing affordability. Local brownfield authorities can choose to focus on different priorities when considering potential projects – for example, the Marquette Brownfield Authority currently makes walkability a top priority. The Marquette Brownfield Authority should amend their Project Priority Policy to require that low-to-middle-income housing be included in residential and mixed-use Brownfield developments. In fact, I have already advocated for this as a member of the Brownfield Authority.
  6. Consider passing an inclusionary zoning ordinance. This would require that in order to do certain kinds of large residential or mixed-use developments, developers would have to ensure that a certain percentage of their housing units are affordable for low- and middle-income Marquette residents. At the very least, the City should begin requiring affordable units in large residential and mixed-use developments on a case-by-case basis.
  7. Reduce residential off-street parking requirements. This will reduce construction costs and regulatory hurdles for developers and allow us to increase density without changing the character of residential neighborhoods. A good place to start would be to follow the lead of peer cities like Sault Ste. Marie, Duluth, and Traverse City by requiring only 1 off-street parking space per residence rather than 2, and eliminating off-street parking requirements for ADUs and dwellings above commercial establishments as Bay City and Alpena have already done.

Preserving Our Lakeshore, Trails, & Forestlands

Preserving our public lakeshore needs to be a top priority for the City. We can develop and grow without sacrificing the special qualities that make people want to live in Marquette in the first place.

I grew up swimming in Lake Superior, walking and driving along Lakeshore Boulevard and around Presque Isle, and walking along the beach with my high school sweetheart Aubrie. I also grew up going hiking and biking with my friends and family, and learned to love cross country skiing as a teenager. I still do all of these things today, and I want to be able to keep doing them for the rest of my life.

I disagree with some of the recent developments along the lakeshore at Founders Landing. However, those decisions have already been made. Rather than merely complaining, we should use the experience at Founders Landing to make sure that, as our community grows and develops, we don’t repeat some of the mistakes that have been made in the past and are always proactive in reaching out to the public for feedback. For example, I am opposed to the recent proposal to build a multi-story condo complex on Lakeshore Boulevard near Picnic Rocks. I also am not in favor of any more development on the east side of Lakeshore Blvd.

I also strongly support selling the Heartwood Parcel 13 to the Noquemanon Trail Network and placing the undeveloped portions of the Heartwood Property into a conservation easement. This would ensure that these precious trails and forestlands will be preserved for future generations. The City should also support individual property owners who wish to place their land into a conservation easement.

Preserving access to our lakeshore, trails, and forestlands will be one of my top priorities as a City Commissioner. I believe that we can develop and grow without sacrificing the special qualities that make people want to live in Marquette in the first place.

Creating Economic Opportunities to Help Young People & Working Families Stay in Marquette

Young people and working families are having an increasingly difficult time staying in Marquette, and in addition to a lack of affordable housing, this is also due to a lack of economic opportunity. Although local government cannot “create jobs” in a traditional sense and is not responsible for education and workforce training in Marquette, the City does have a vital role to play in creating opportunities to allow young people and people with limited incomes and education to not just survive in Marquette, but thrive. As Marquette grows and changes, our downtown and our economy as a whole must also adjust to the new realities facing us in the 21st century.

Here are 10 fresh ideas to drive inclusive, sustainable economic growth and improve the quality of life for young people and working-class residents of Marquette:

  1. Take advantage of north Marquette’s “Opportunity Zone” status. The entire north side of Marquette was recently designated as an “Opportunity Zone” in the new federal tax law. This essentially provides huge federal tax incentives for investors to create new businesses in north Marquette, especially in tech, advanced manufacturing, and other rapidly growing 21st-century STEAM industries. With many vacant properties in north Marquette, most notably Cliffs Dow and the Presque Isle Power Plant site, the Marquette Opportunity Zone could attract hundreds of new jobs and revitalize the entire north side of Marquette.
  2. Continue to support entrepreneurs & retain existing small businesses. Don’t fall into the “Amazon trap” of fighting with other communities for the next big business that’s going to employ 1,000 people. Rather than having one large, out-of-town business that employs 1,000 people, we should try to have 10 homegrown local businesses each employing 100 people, or 100 small businesses each employing 10 people. And we need to make sure that the people who work at those small businesses are actually able to find an affordable place to live in the City. That is what a truly sustainable and diversified small-town economy looks like.
  3. Diversify our economy with light manufacturing. Marquette has become too reliant on tourism and low-wage service-industry jobs: we need economic growth that goes beyond condos and coffee shops, and we need blue-collar jobs that pay more than $4.00 per hour plus tip. The answer is 21st-century light manufacturing. For example, Extreme Tool & Engineering in Wakefield hires students straight out of high school at a starting wage of $15.00 per hour, provides on the job training, and employs 150 men and women making steel molds. The key? High-quality vocational education in local high schools, access to an airport, and 1 GB industrial-grade broadband Internet. If Marquette could offer all three of those community assets, we could have multiple businesses like Extreme Tool in the City. If it’s possible in Wakefield, why not in Marquette?
  4. Establish a fast, reliable downtown public bus loop. The 2018-20 Strategic Plan recommends that the City work with MarqTran to provide reliable, efficient public transit that full-time Marquette residents, visitors, and students will actually use. This downtown public bus loop would connect the new hospital, the MarqTran depot, the West Washington and Third Street business districts, and NMU, and possibly major local hotels like the Ramada or Hampton. This would cost about $10,000 per bus stop per year. As such, the total up-front cost of a robust 40-minute downtown bus loop would be less than $100,000, meaning the loop could easily sustain itself through fares alone, at no cost to City taxpayers.
  5. Provide free public Wi-Fi downtown. High-speed Internet is critical for 21st-century businesses. The City should provide free high-speed public Wi-Fi in the downtown business district, just like the village of L’Anse and the cities of Holland, MI and Minneapolis, MN. If L’Anse can do it, why can’t we?Bike lane separated from the traffic lanes by the curb in Somerville, MA. A much cheaper option would be erecting flexible plastic stakes to separate motorists and cyclists.
  6. Expand on-street bicycle routes and make them safer by physically separating them from traffic lanes. The existing on-street bicycle routes should be connected to residential neighborhoods and the bike path network on the periphery of the City. The City should also install some sort of physical barrier between traffic lanes and bike lanes to protect cyclists – simple flexible plastic stakes have been installed in other cities and have been effective in preventing motorists and cyclists from encroaching on one another. Another option would be using the curb to separate bike lanes from the street, as pictured above. This will make biking a more viable alternative to driving, reducing traffic congestion and transportation costs for local residents while making it easier for people to patronize downtown businesses.
  7. Make Marquette a destination for self-employed online entrepreneurs. About 600 people in Marquette earn their living from home, but we rarely think about these self-employed people with very small businesses that are often knowledge-based and reliant on online sales. Marquette already has a great quality of life, access to a university, and a relatively affordable cost of living – co-working spaces like Ampersand, fast & free public Wi-Fi downtown, more affordable housing, and access to high-speed broadband Internet will all make Marquette an even better place for these 21st-century entrepreneurs.
  8. Hold joint meetings between the City Commission & MAPS Board of Education. Countless other communities, including the Michigan small cities of Troy, Morenci, Holland, and Albion, are already holding joint meeting between their city councils and local school boards. These joint meetings would allow us to identify areas where the City, MAPS, and other educational institutions can work together, and will allow us to do long-term strategic planning regarding education and workforce development. At the end of the day, if we can get every third-grader in Marquette to read and do math at grade level, and get more high school students to pursue post-secondary education, we’ll be setting ourselves up to have a highly skilled workforce 10-15 years from now. That will do more to create economic opportunity than anything else we can do as a City.
  9. Use Brownfield redevelopment to support local small businesses rather than focusing primarily on large mega-projects. Brownfield redevelopment is a powerful tool to drive local economic growth, but it can also be a double-edged sword if it is over-employed. Rather than focusing on huge projects involving hundreds of millions of dollars which take decades to generate any local tax revenue, we should help local entrepreneurs redevelop blighted properties by taking on smaller projects, like the recent Nestledown Inn and 231 West Patisserie projects.
  10. Reduce commercial off-street parking requirements. City zoning policies currently require businesses to have a large amount of off-street parking spaces. This increases the costs of building or expanding a business in Marquette, and leads to an increasingly large amount of valuable space downtown being taken up by parking spaces which are mostly empty most of the time. We can support local small businesses, encourage downtown development, and grow the local tax base by reducing and eventually phasing out commercial parking minimums downtown, while still making it possible for people to find adequate parking.

Homelessness: A Housing-First Solution

Homelessness has become an increasingly serious challenge faced by the City of Marquette. Room at the Inn and their Warming Center have been overwhelmed and, despite their best efforts, are no longer able to adequately care for the City’s homeless population with the facilities they have. Meanwhile, City police and firefighters and Marquette medical personnel spend a huge amount of time and resources serving our homeless individuals. The City and the Police Department are already stretched thin, and interactions with the homeless cost the City hundreds of thousands of dollars each year and regularly take law enforcement officers off the streets for hours at a time. Marquette taxpayers are already subsidizing services for the homeless, but we are currently only putting a band-aid on the larger problem.

That is why I support a “housing first” solution to the homelessness crisis in the City. Creating a permanent homeless shelter operated by Room at the Inn is not only the right thing to do, it is the right financial thing to do. Even if the City has to assist with the up-front cost, a homeless shelter will save countless taxpayer dollars in the long run and help homeless people get access to addiction treatment, mental and physical health care, and education and training. Of course, a homeless shelter will have to be located in an appropriate part of town, professionally staffed, and oriented towards helping people turn their lives around. But it is time that we stop brushing this problem under the rug and get serious about finding a solution.

Year-Round Dog Park

Aubrie and I with our dog Brio at Harlow Park.

Aubrie and I love walking our dog Brio in the City, and we are not the only dog lovers in town who have wanted to see a year-round dog park in the City for a very long time. In fact, the 2018 Parks & Rec survey found that City residents ranked creating a year-round dog park as their second-most-needed parks and recreation improvement after expanding trail networks, and 69% of City residents support a year-round dog park. On the Parks & Rec Board, this has been one of our top priorities for a couple of years now, and it will be included in the next Parks & Rec Master Plan. One possibility would be to convert the park at the corner of Presque Isle and Wright into a year-round off-leash dog park, as this park is currently very under-used as a neighborhood playground.

Accessible Public Parks and Beaches

A beautiful summer morning at McCarty’s Cove, with the lighthouse (and future site of Lighthouse Park!) to the right. Everyone should be able to enjoy McCarty’s Cove and all our public parks and guarded beaches.

We must make sure that Marquette residents with disabilities and limited mobility are also able to enjoy our public parks and enjoy the lake on a hot summer day just like everyone else. Along with several other members of the Parks & Rec Board, I have advocated for the installation of durable accessibility mats at all the guarded beaches in the City to allow people with wheelchairs, walkers, etc. to access the water without getting stuck in the sand or on hazardous wooden boardwalks. This would only cost about $70,000, and could be funded through grants.

The playground at Mattson Lower Harbor Park should be converted to a universally accessible playground that is safe and goes beyond the minimum requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The creation of a fully accessible playground at Mattson Lower Harbor Park must also be a top priority for the City. The recent Parks & Rec Master Plan identifies accessibility as by far the weakest aspect of Marquette’s park system, and 70% of City residents support a new accessible park, and the cost of converting Mattson Park into an accessible playground could be covered mostly by charitable funds already being raised by concerned citizens, with the City paying for maintenance. Ultimately, this project would provide something that is truly priceless – making it possible for every child in Marquette to play with their friends.

Make City Government More Transparent

Unfortunately, it is very difficult for most Marquette residents to stay informed on and participate in City government, and this is largely because the City is not proactive enough in providing information and opportunities for public engagement and feedback. In the 21st century, putting a public notice in the Mining Journal and posting something on the City website is not enough. We can and must do better. Here are 5 things I will do as a City Commissioner to increase City government transparency and citizen engagement:

  1. I pledge to post a public explanation of every single substantive vote that I take as a City Commissioner on this website and my Facebook page within 48 hours. This will include explanations of any vote that I take, aside from routine items like appointments, approval of the agenda and minutes, and Consent Agenda items. I also pledge to allow civil public comments on these posts, to embrace respectful criticism, and to respond to as many questions and comments as I possibly can.
  2. I will ask that all City Commission meetings and work sessions be livestreamed on YouTube, not just on Charter Channel 191.  This will only be possible for meetings which take place in Commission Chambers where the appropriate AV equipment exists, but the ability to watch meetings live on YouTube would make it much easier for the public to stay informed about City government. It would cost nothing other than a small amount of additional staff time.
  3. I will ask that the City create public Facebook events on the City Facebook page for every public hearing that is held by the City Commission or any of the other appointed boards and committees in the City government, with appropriate details about the agenda in the description of the event.
  4. I will hold public City Commission office hours at least twice a month at a public place that is accessible to all residents (i.e., a coffee shop, Peter White Public Library, etc.).
  5. All City Commission meetings should be held after 5pm. This should include work sessions and budget hearings, and should apply to the Planning Commission and other City boards as well. Most Marquette residents, myself included, work a daily 9-5 job, yet many important City meetings are held at odd hours of the day. For example, Brownfield Authority meetings are held at 8:00 AM on Thursdays, and the City Commission’s budget hearings are usually held at 3:00 PM on weekdays. No wonder that virtually no members of the public ever show up to these important meetings!