Columns Saugatuck/Douglas Commercial Record

Blue Star

By Scott Sullivan
Derby Day
What’s worse than a man without a home? In Douglas, a land without a zone. The planning commission May 9 will weigh saving 16.77 acres — bought in 2013 and annexed from Saugatuck Township two years later — from anonymity, christening it R-5 Multiple Family Residential.
For those who recall R2D2 from “Star Wars” movies, talking robots are not like land, though at times they’re similar. Douglas bought the 6851 Wiley Road parcel for $196,600 thinking back then it might make a public works site.
You have to put big machines grinding in and out from drives onto public roads; piles of road salt, signs, cones, barriers, not-now-in-use trash cans and picnic tables somewhere. Cities need such unglamorous tools for cleanups, escavations and such or citizens complain. Just don’t put them near my back yard.
After Wiley Road neighbors raised the usual hew and cry, Douglas dumped that idea and tried again, in 2017 buying 9.59 acres at 291 66th Street for just under $50,000. The city invested $58K more to install a culvert and driveway there. Those neighbors’ reaction: ditto. Now the city is trying to unload that land.
So public works stays at Wiley and Water streets on a cramped lot with accessory space at Wade’s Bayou, a tragically-underused waterfront downtown park.
Think of an art city trying to distinguish itself with a new wading-heron logo on a still-newer gateway sign pointing Blue Star Highway cars east to a downtown where drivers might see said birds. While you’re here, explore and enjoy shops and restaurants too.

Back to dump sites. The unzoned Wiley land west of Northern Lights Condominiums now hosts lesser storage, tucked mostly behind and around a shed on the land when Douglas bought it. Those acres were used last fall for a city-allowed private hunt aimed at culling deer herds displaced by new homes largely owned by affluent folks.
Nothing wrong with that: It helps the tax base and speaks to natural beauty that will keep drawing people until it is compromised or, worse, gone, the wildlife we love forced to go somewhere else. Extinct? Should we think ahead, perhaps we won’t have to save that for later.
As for the human herd, where do young, working families — who can fill local jobs and schools with in-district children — go?
Hence the R-5 push: The Wiley land is contiguous to the now-being-cleaned-up former Haworth plant site, polluted by predecessor Chase Manufacturing, via 50.34 unused acres controlled by developer Dave Barker. That parcel between, once the Mi-Ro Golf Course, has contamination issues that need addressing too. Would you raise your kids on what once was a toxic dump site?
The 75-acre sum was discussed as an ambitious but still unrealized mixed-use development with what was described as “affordable” housing in 2019. Euphemism time. The city has replaced that term with “attainable” to clearly reflect still more ambiguity.

I applaud Douglas for its step-by-step, patient efforts. Rome wasn’t built in a day nor was its fall instantaneous. The Eternal City remains a world center — think the Vatican among more marvels — though its empire is not the same.
It’s that human striving I saw in volunteers Earth Day weekend resurrecting downtown’s bump outs by weeding and planting fresh flowers. Douglas has removed the old, rusting Beery Field tower, is upgrading the nearby veterans’ memorial and keeping its eye on basics, i.e. infrastructure needs.
I suppose every atom must have a zone. That one there you can’t see: Do we have a designated use for it? A plan that can be, realistically and with private help, implemented?
Does one or more atom next door have a special use, PUD, overlay, variance, easement restrictions? Eyes glaze over. “Words, words, words,” Hamlet said, mocking Shakepeare’s assemblage that stillteaches us today.
Derby Day Saturday was the first this season for many of us to wear shorts. Warm air on pale limbs felt freeing. Saugatuck was packed and alive; downtown parking was near as impossible as on peak July-August weekends.
It didn’t help that a Maple Street water-line leak closed the Blue Star roundabout-building detour, rerouting drivers who didn’t even want to be there through city center. But where people are there are issues, so too vibrant life.
Douglas, too. was festive with Derby-decked souls, but less jam-packed. I could park to take pictures and think about how things might be. Here was a palette awaiting more human hues, not in the way art too often is commodified, but added thoughtfully and discretely.
Few knew who was running in the Kentucky Derby, even fewer cared. We dressed up or down and let cares melt away on a sunny day.

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