SANDUSKY — The split vote represents just how divided community members feel about transforming a beloved public waterfront property.
During a lively three-hour meeting at City Hall, Sandusky planning commission members voted 5-2 to support a multimillion-dollar redevelopment initiative for the Jackson Street Pier.
About 75 people attended the heated and, at times, contentious session, with some community members resorting to yelling at board members.
Despite an occasional outbursts, city representatives still welcomed the overwhelming public interest and input.
“I want to express my appreciation for people participating in this process,” planning commission member Peter McGory said. “It was tough because there are a lot of different opinions on this.”
Before pushing forward with the plan, Sandusky city commissioners must also take an open vote, scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 222 Meigs St.
Some people characterized this as a true compromise because no one on either side completely agrees with what’s being proposed.
“I don’t love this design because it doesn’t come close to what I want,” said Alan Griffiths, the president of Downtown Sandusky Inc. “But it’s a design we, as a community, have come up with that meets everyone’s needs for everyone using the pier.”
Added Ryan Whaley, co-owner of Hotel Kilbourne and other downtown-based businesses: “I don’t love this plan. I think there should be zero parking (on the pier), however, everyone is getting a little bit of what they want. That is the important thing, now let’s move forward.”
The project could total somewhere between $4 million and $7 million. But not a cent of general fund, or everyday operating budget, dollars, directly backed by city taxpayers, would go toward funding this initiative. Instead a combination of grants, sponsorships and private donations will fund the effort.
If approved by city commissioners, construction could start as soon as next year and end by 2020.
From the crowd, about a dozen people vocally supported a rendering calling for more green space, less parking spaces — dropping from about 240 today to roughly 100 — along with a boardwalk boasting better handicap access spanning the pier’s entire perimeter.
These changes could entice more people, especially children and teenagers, to visit downtown.
“A number of my friends can’t use the pier because they don’t find a reason to go down there,” Sandusky High School student Tyler Franklin said. “But I feel this (plan) would make it a more attractive place for people my age to come down to.”
An underlying complaint from the plan’s detractors revolves around removing two-thirds of existing parking spaces.
But their opponents countered, pointing to a city study showing almost 900 free parking spots located within a 3-minute walking radius of the pier.
“If you attend events in larger cities, you often have to park city blocks. We aren’t talking ‘Sandusky(-sized) blocks. We are talking city blocks away,” city resident Blake Anthony Harris said. “That doesn’t prevent people from attending those events. Right now, at the pier, I see blacktop and a sidewalk. That doesn’t do it for me. With this, you add color. You add versatility. This can help push the community further in a much more vibrant and positive direction.”
It’s not just younger people who back the plan: Longtime locals also favor it.
“Over the last 30 years of my lifetime, the city has taken this whole entire waterfront and have made it more accessible,” city resident Kurt Kresser said. “This plan here goes along with that. I love the idea of beautifying this place and creating something that is more appealing.”
Representatives from businesses literally anchored at the pier also embrace what’s being proposed.
“This is a much better drawing than what was originally presented,” Goodtime I owner Joe Lamb said. “I see this as a solution.”
Despite tinkering with the plan over the past year, city-hired planners still failed at appeasing all community members, according to local resident Susan Wikel.
She based her complaint on the plan showing a lack of parking.
“If there are 98 parking spaces, that is just not enough,” said Wikel, who takes her 92-year-old, Sandusky-born mother to the pier quite often. “You have to stop and think about the older people who can’t get out and walk.”
Tom LaMarca focused his issues on another area.
“That is going to be ‘goose drop alley,’” he said. “To add another big green ‘goose dropping area’ into that parking lot is ridiculous. You can have some green space, but choke it down. That does not belong on Jackson Street Pier.”
Sheffield Way resident Tim Schwanger, who leads a group called Friends of the Jackson Street Pier, also opposed the lawn.
“That green space should be split up into different pocket areas to make way for additional parking,” he said.
Others raised concerns with possible traffic issues arising.
“It’s too congested,” Fifth Street resident Sharon Johnson said. “There is a good flow of traffic coming into that pier. There are too many activities going on here. Once you mess this up, it’s gone forever.”
Adrian Circle resident Arlene Thompson argued all residents, and not just a select few on a board, should weigh in on the important matter.
“We should put this on a ballot,” Thompson said. “That way you get everyone’s opinion. You will get the opinions of the taxpayers.”
Among how the seven Sandusky planning commission members voted on a proposal to redevelop the Jackson Street Pier:
• To support the plan: Joe Galea, Jim Jackson, Peter McGory, David Miller and Conor Whelan
• To oppose the plan: Wes Poole Mike Zuilhof
Peering into the pier’s new look
A tentative plan to transform the Jackson Street Pier calls for many changes, consisting of adding a green space for passive recreation opportunities, removing parking — dropping from about 240 today to roughly 100 — and adding a multipurpose building for possible events.
Among the other areas planners targeted when putting together a design, this drawing:
• Maintains all existing uses for fishermen, boaters and people who walk or drive there to park for relaxation purposes
• Keeps parking along the water’s edge and northernmost end
• Upgrades handicap accessibility for both commuters and pedestrians, who can more easily enter a boardwalk area
• Creates a boardwalk spanning the entire pier’s perimeter, which, in its current configuration, unexpectedly ends at the northwest corner
• Enhances the Homeland Security areas necessary to preserve ferry service to Pelee Island, the only public waterway transportation operation reaching U.S. territory
• Addresses deferred maintenance and beautification issues while improving site lines along the waterfront
• Improves the ticketing, drop-off and waiting environment for traffic boarding or departing the Goodtime, Jet Express and Pelee Islander