By Ken DeLaat
Know what a Green Belt is?
No, not a vodka gimlet nor your St Patrick's Day accessory that cannot be worn any other day (and probably shouldn’t ever be worn).
It’s an area designated as protected. Land that is to remain undeveloped and perhaps returned to its natural state. A Greenbelt can be part of a the zoning ordinance in municipalities particularly around lakes and other waterways.
That’s perhaps a simplistic explanation since attempting to come to a conclusion as to what it is as well as whether or not it was needed brought over 60 people to the Brooks Township hall Monday night.
The Brooks Township Planning Commission held a public hearing on various actions moving forward, including removing the ordinance known as the Green Belt. Most who attended lived on Brooks Lake and several others lived on Hess Lake and they were there to listen and to be heard. To learn about the ordinance that will likely no longer have a place in the township books and to educate others on what it might mean. To express their concerns and hopefully be reassured about those concerns.
The Planning Commission listened and reacted to queries that were presented. Some exchanges were more passionate than others. There was praise for the Commission from a few folks, mostly those who have had experience on such boards and understand the difficulty in working for so many bosses as one does when assuming public service.
And witnessing how the meeting unfolded I came away impressed with what I saw happening. There were a wide variety of opinions ranging from those who are adamant about the ordinance remaining in place to those who were equally resolute in their desire to have it removed as well as folks who seemed to lean one way or the other and some who came with no preconceived opinion.
Rumors that have prowled the pages of social media were given a voice and the board as well as other citizens provided information and opinions in hopes of dispelling them and from a couple of voices the motives of the Planning folks as well as those of the Township Board were questioned.
And this was all done in a manner befitting our democratic process.
Certainly there were people who voiced distrust for PC members and elected officials. There should be. Our history with those in government at all levels has instilled a suspicious nature toward people on ‘the inside’ and it is an entirely appropriate response to question motives because that’s what we are supposed to do in this country. It’s not personal it’s business.The business of being an involved citizen.
And the commission as well as Township Supervisor Cory Nelson who spoke with citizens after the meeting listened to their constituents and responded.
I cover the County Commission meetings that are held twice a month in our county seat, White Cloud. Outside of department heads other elected officials and maybe someone there to make a presentation (or maybe someone who has wandered in by mistake) it’s me and maybe one or two others, though often none at all.
I get it. I never attended one before beginning to report on them but it still strikes me as a bit unsettling. I guess because it feels incomplete when no public comment is made, no questions are voiced and no disagreement is registered. I’m certain this makes for a smooth meeting for the commish folks but it feels a bit lacking in terms of process.
My attendance at other city and township meetings is generally driven by controversy so there tends to be bigger crowds and sometimes a few unruly individuals can put a bit of a blemish on the proceedings, but more often than not cooler heads prevail especially when folks are seeking clarity.
And Monday's crowd along with the Planning Commission members sought to capture that clarity.
Not all went home happy and that’s ok. Some will continue to distrust and remain vigilant and that is also ok. Some may have left with more questions than they possessed when they came and others may have gotten the information they were seeking.
But the process itself was admirable..
At one point a board member made the comment “he works for us” in reference to the Zoning Administrator. The audience member who posed the original question replied. “No he doesn’t. He works for me and everyone here.’ and the crowd burst into applause with the commission members, including the gentleman who had unintentionally misspoken, nodding in agreement and smiling at the reaction.
This is how it should work. A meaningful dialogue with a dollop or two of candor and even occasional humor
In the end the Planning Commission voted to take out the ordinance an action that will be decided on by the Township Board at their next meeting
I don’t know what will come of this. Like I said some will be cheesed off and some will rejoice regardless of the decision because that’s who we are. We disagree. We’re a nation who are supposed to work toward solutions, to compromise and to give our vote to those we trust to represent us.
And if we don't trust them?
We have public forums to help foster accountability and elections to make changes when necessary.
While D.C and Lansing are teeming with ‘Ins’ who seem to have long lost touch with any ability to value anything beyond party loyalty and a rather pathetic desperation to remain in office there is still a place in this remarkable country for the type of interaction that took place Monday.
The meeting might have veered a bit off the tracks of how public hearings are scheduled to proceed by engaging in dialogue with those who had questions to be sure….
But in doing so the PC served the community each of its members call home in the best possible manner.
Nicely done, Brooks Township.
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