Lake view with room to breathe
Officials want Lake St. Clair shoreline to become a place
for all to enjoy, but overdevelopment may be plan's biggest
Two decades ago, it was called the "Gold Coast,"
an untapped resource that could provide a glimmering focal
point for Macomb County. But
the opportunity to develop the Lake St. Clair shoreline
into the jewel of the county may have passed.
When county officials meet Tuesday they're expected to
launch a Coastal Zone Management Program to inventory
all land uses within 1,000 feet of the shoreline - homes,
condominiums, marinas, boat launch sites, parks, wetlands.
That will serve as a database to guide future development
The next step may be a county master plan that seeks to
unite the waterfront communities for a collaborative effort
to plot the future of the lakeshore. But some officials
believe the opportunity to create a more attractive waterfront
lakefront should have been laid out with more public land,
so that no individual owns the waterfront," said Chesterfield
Township Supervisor Jim Ellis, who lives on the lake.
"But it will not happen now. It's too late to even dream
Private homes and marinas dominate the shoreline, causing
some residents to wonder why so much of the county's waterfront
falls under residents-only or members-only restrictions.
Steve Cassin, county director of Planning and Economic
Development, holds an optimistic view that the shoreline
can become home to more parks, launch sites and a bike/hike
trail. Proper long-term planning can make a difference,
never too late. There's always the opportunity for redevelopment,"
But nearly all of the waterfront is fully developed -
Ellis counts only 10 vacant lots over a long stretch of
Chesterfield shoreline - and creating more public access
would mean government buying property as it becomes available.
Cost is a major barrier. Vacant residential lots typically
carry a $300,000 price tag. The land is in such high demand
that donations to local communities are unlikely.
That means that the existing parks and boat access sites
may be all that's offered for decades to come.
Jack Brandenburg, a member of the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan
Authority board that oversees Metro Beach, said waterfront
residents are paying the price for a lack of foresight
by generations of officials.
Harrison Township, I don't think there's ever been any
long-term planning," said Brandenburg, a 22-year resident
of Harrison's waterfront. "We have so little green space
left. Out where I live, it's become so congested. I think
the development is hurting what we have."
Brandenburg and others complain that the trend is for
developers to buy and demolish old, cottage-style homes
on the lake and "squeeze in" condominiums or large homes
of 3,000 square feet or more.
The result is that something as simple as a view of the
lake is becoming hard to come by.
In recent years, U.S. Rep. David Bonior has pursued a
federally funded plan to extend a hike/bike path from
Metro Beach north to the Port Huron area. So far, that
plan has produced few results.
The Chesterfield Township board last week voted to pursue
funding for the path, with the township paying 20 percent
of the costs. But at this point the proposal only calls
for a 1-mile stretch south of New Baltimore along Jefferson
Avenue, several hundred feet from the shoreline.
Extending the path farther south, over the Salt River,
is unrealistic due to the costs of a pedestrian bridge,
One of the few efforts to study shoreline development
was launched in the 1980s by the Central Macomb Chamber
of Commerce. But the project soon became bogged down in
controversy over the future of Selfridge Air National
Guard Base, by far the largest lakefront piece of property.
No recommendations were forthcoming.
Some officials say the shoreline shortcomings are a symptom
of the Detroit area waterfront, including the Detroit
and St. Clair rivers. Private homes and industrial properties
dominate. Comparisons are made to the Chicago lakefront
where massive parks, beaches and public facilities such
as museums, an aquarium and Navy Pier are the envy of
Ellis said his community and others would have been wise
decades ago to set aside a 100- or 200-foot wide swath
of land for public recreation along the Lake St. Clair
shore. But hindsight only blurs the limits of what is
Grace Shore, director of the Central Macomb Chamber of
Commerce, said current trends are alarming. Overdevelopment
of the waterfront will backfire, hurting property values
and future economic development, she said.
Ideally, Shore said, a balance should be struck between
public land and high-priced homes and condominiums. But
that balance assumes that affordable land is available
for public acquisition.
a great idea but it probably should have been done 40
years ago," Shore said. "For the most part, the waterfront