It appears the Jacksonport Town Board made a wise decision in creating a Plan Commission this year, for its members have made it their mission to make Jacksonport more than a passage for visitors on their way to more robust communities.
At its Aug. 4 meeting, the members of the Plan Commission had a healthy discussion on the state of business in Jacksonport, with two longtime businesses for sale and little else happening in the way of growth.
“One of the roles the Plan Commission has is serving as kind of the economic development team as well, so some of the things we’re talking about really relate to what can the Plan Commission do to encourage business here,” said Bob Kufrin, chair of the commission. “If the town board doesn’t want to encourage local businesses to stay or for new businesses to grow, it really needs to say that. Otherwise the Plan Commission is thinking that it’s good to have the Jaroshes to be able to sell their business and good for Mike’s [Port Pub] to sell, instead of closing down. If two or three of those shut their doors, there’s potentially a tipping point. We lose another business or two and it’s going to nosedive and – I hate to say this – where it’s going to end up like Forestville, where you drive down the street and see what was a thriving small downtown area that now is mostly closed businesses. I think that would be horrible.”
The idea of reinstalling sidewalks that once connected the Jacksonport businesses was brought up. The original sidewalks were installed courtesy of the Jacksonport Women’s Club, but, according to former town board chair and current Plan Commission member Al Birnschein, they were poorly installed right on topsoil and were dug up when they started deteriorating.
Tim Bley, the youngest member of the Plan Commission, voiced opposition to sidewalks.
“Why would you be opposed to sidewalks?” Kufrin asked.
“Maintenance. Liability,” Bley said.
“What’s the liability?” Kufrin asked.
“Snow in the winter,” Bley said.
Kufrin said the town could create an ordinance requiring property owners to clear the snow from the sidewalk. Bley responded that the Village of Egg Harbor enacted such an ordinance, but with so many part-time residents, it isn’t effective. He added that Baileys Harbor has a maintenance staff to clear its sidewalks and Jacksonport has part-time staff.
“I don’t see how sidewalks are going to bring us business,” Bley said.
Commission member Little Bit LeClair said a path on the grass has been worn down on many properties because people don’t feel safe walking on Hwy. 57. “There is a beaten path from the Town Hall Bakery all the way to JR’s and it’s three-feet wide. Grass is not going to grow there. People don’t feel safe.”
Bley suggested that in the scheme of things the town wants to do, sidewalks are a low priority.
“The challenge is looking ahead and seeing what’s good for the downtown area,” Kufrin said. “What’s good for those businesses? If you think about it, looking ahead, will the businesses downtown thrive if there is no way to connect them? Businesses do better if you can walk from the next to the next to the next.”
Kufrin said if the town provided that connection, people are not “on the road and they’re not wandering all over someone’s yard.” He added that the town thinks ahead by allocating money to a fund to pay for fire trucks and that it could do the same for sidewalks.
“What’s wrong with having the property owner pay for the sidewalk?” Birnshein said.
“You could special assess it,” Kufrin said.
In the audience Jacksonport resident Marjorie Andrae pointed out that downtown Jacksonport is neither safe nor handicap accessible, a point amplified by commission member LeClair: “There is a constant trail of people from the condos [on the north side] with baby strollers and dogs, family groups of 10 to 15 people, it is hazardous right now. When cars are parked like the other day with Cherry Fest, there is no place to go except trespass on other people’s property.”
“This is something the town board should be looking at. Do it and do it right,” Birnschein said.
Bley mentioned that another impediment to growth in Jacksonport is the restrictive zoning ordinance that prevents a single-family home to be built on anything less than a 20-acre parcel.
“Some of that was poor planning,” Birnschein said. “They didn’t want anything to get bigger.”
“We have a younger generation that want to build in Jacksonport, but they can’t afford 20 acres,” Bley said. “I’ve said this from day one. I’d like to get it down to five acres. Five acres is enough land for someone to move around and do what they want. Then some people say, we don’t want subdivisions. These kids don’t want subdivisions. They want woods where they can be away from people. Five acres give you enough room to move around.”
“Maybe we need to look at Jacksonport-specific regulations and make a recommendation to the board that some of these no longer make sense,” Kufrin said.
He gave the group the assignment of going through the county zoning with Jacksonport restrictions in search of things that are hindering growth.
“Come with a recommendation how you would change that, delete it, revert to the county, or something in between,” he said.
Kufrin reported that the town board had approved two projects that had been forwarded by the Plan Commission, including an offer from the Jacksonport Women’s Club to plant crabapple trees along the town’s core, from Jorns Road in the south to Logerquist Road to the north.
The board also approved the creation of an ad hoc environmental committee to organize some educational/informational sessions on manure spreading. Tim Bley will head the committee, and he said farmer Mark Haberli has agreed to serve on the committee along with citizen Dan Andrae, whose well was one of those that was contaminated last September when a contractor for the Haberlis spread liquid manure over a sinkhole.
“Doing something will create a sense of direction and that will be good,” Kufrin said about the ad hoc committee and its charge for educating the community.
The commission is also recommending that $12,000 to $15,000 be included in the 2016 town budget for large welcome signs at both ends of town to help give the town an identity.
Kufrin also suggested the board add $1,000 to the 2016 budget to update to a more user-friendly website, both for the town clerk to post information and for users to find information.
The next meeting of the Jacksonport Plan Commission will be held at 8 am on Sept. 1.