Filer Township seeking public input on planning activities

The Filer Township Planning Commission is requesting public feedback regarding future community priorities and initiatives. (Scott Fraley/News Advocate)

FILER TWP. — The Planning Commission of the Charter Township of Filer invites the public to attend an open house event from 5:30 – 7 p.m. on Sept. 5 at the Filer Township Hall.

Claire Karner, a certified planner at Beckett & Raeder, said this input session will be an opportunity for community members to help develop a vision and prioritize township goals and initiatives in the coming years.

“The master plan is a vision for how the community wants to grow and develop over the next 5 to 20 years,” Karner said. “We’re looking at a whole host of different issues from transportation, to community infrastructure, housing, parks and recreation amenities and how they all work together.”

The Filer Township Planning Commission has been evaluating the current master plan while fielding input from residents and businesses. Karner said this community visioning process is an important component for what are the highest priorities among residents and businesses.

In July, the Planning Commission released a short online survey to gather public feedback. Over 100 people responded to the community survey.

The upcoming open house will conclude the public input portion of the process.

“The community over the last four years has done a lot of public input and I’m really hoping that it continues to reflect the desires of the community and how they want to see the community grow,” said Tamara Buswinka, director of the Filer Township Downtown Development Authority.

This process will result in the drafting of a master plan which details the specific types of projects and initiatives the community intends to move forward on.

“Once we finish this visioning session we’re going back to the planning commission and work through drafting the plan,” she said. “It will have the big picture vision of how the community sees itself in the next 20 years. There will also be very specific actions and policies that the community has identified.”

Survey respondents have listed a number of priorities in the areas of housing, industrial redevelopment and neighborhood walkability.

In total, 46% of respondents thought there was a need for more senior housing while over 70% saw more need for housing in general.

“The Planning Commission is looking at ways of promoting more diverse housing options like workforce housing and senior housing,” Karner said. “Housing has also been a high priority among survey respondents.”

Another high priority for survey respondents is the redevelopment of vacant industrial sites.

Karner said the respondent’s concerns mirrored those of the Planning Commission who “wanted to look for opportunities for redevelopment while keeping it concentrated in areas with existing infrastructure to spur more commercial and industrial growth.”

According to Karner, three-quarters of survey respondents also wanted to see more biking and walking opportunities throughout the township.

“Non-motorized infrastructure was a high priority,” she said. “Working with the planning commission we’ve been talking a lot about sidewalks and bike trails.”

Buswinka also stressed the importance of improved walkability.

“I’m hoping to see an emphasis on improving walkability — connecting neighborhoods to the commercial corridor with streetscape improvements,” she said. “That’s what we’ve been hearing from people and I’m sure that the master plan will reflect that.”

According to Buswinka, these improvements will help create more character within the community which should attract investments.

Although state statutes require communities to review or update their master plans every five years, Karner believes the real impetus behind this program comes from changes in the township.

“This master plan effort is building on a lot of other initiatives that the township has been undertaking, including the U.S. 31 business district plan, investments in the sanitary sewer system and in the DDA district,” she said. “There’s been a lot of positive momentum that they’re trying to build on.”

Karner stresses that this new plan will augment, not replace the current master plan.

“The previous master plan was successful and its got a lot of great ideas in it,” Karner said. “It prioritized housing, infill development and a big push to continue to promote the DDA and expand the commercial district. The updated master plan is building on that previous master plan, but it’s helpful to be looking at changing community demographics and how a community can respond to those trends.”

These demographic changes will play a role in how the new master plan is developed. According to Karner, master plans should be tailored to the specific circumstances of the community.

“Filer Township has an aging population — the median household size is decreasing and the average age is increasing,” Karner said. “So we’re thinking about senior housing, universal access for recreational amenities and other strategies to respond to those changing demographics.”

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