Rural blight is a very old issue, and Watson Township has been trying to find a way to best handle enforcement.
The Township Board Thursday evening learned that enforcement officer Marnie Mills has resigned her part-time position after about a year and a half to take a job with Caledonia Community Schools. She will be succeeded by Evan Stuart of Martin, a road patrol deputy with the Kent County Sheriff’s Department.
Stuart acknowledged he’s new to blight ordinance enforcement, but has turned in eight years as a police officer. Mills also spent much of her career with the Kent County Sheriff’s office.
The departing official on one hand earned a lot of praise from Township Board and Planning Commission officials, but a survey of residents showed there still are many complaints about blight.
Watson officials believed not a lot has been done locally about the problem and hired Mills early in the summer of 2021 as an addition to the services of Professional Code Inspections.
However, Supervisor Kevin Travis explained that enforcement and cleanup of residences and properties that don’t comply is very expensive and time consuming. He said it doesn’t help that too many seem to think Watson is easy pickings because of its rural character.
He noted that one the township’s recent successes, cleanup of scrap metal at a yard at 2371 22nd St. was done by citizen Nick Pavlak at a considerable savings.
The blight issue was identified as one of the biggest issues in a survey with 60 responses.
Professional Code Inspections interpreted the survey results for board members after receiving a request for a traffic study. It was noted that most travel is north-south and the highest number of Watson residents work in Grand Rapids. Most shopping is done in the Otsego-Plainwell area at Meijer and Wal-Mart.
Results also showed dissatisfaction with the condition of gravel roads in the township.
Residents also expressed much interest in plans for a recreation site near the corner of M-222 and 20th Street. But, as Treasurer Stephanie Caulder quipped, “They want it, but don’t want to pay for it.”
Travis cautioned that the number of survey respondents was low, but probably higher than who would have attended a public hearing.
In other business Thursday night, the board:
• Adopted a resolution approving rezoning a 5.2-acre parcel at 2056 116th Ave, from C-1 commercial to A-2 rural conservation, as recommended by the Planning Commission.
• Agreed to ink a three-year contract for web hosting services with A2 Hosting of Ann Arbor for up to $300.
• Was told by Caulder that the township now has a general fund budget of roughly $413,000, with $257,000 set aside for roads and $174,341 in the special American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) fund.
• Agreed to establish deed restrictions to handle problems associated with residents turning garages into living quarters (apartments). If residents do not sign, they will not gain a building permit.
• Agreed that $60,000 of the ARPA funds will be aside to defray costs of widening a driveway from M-222 into the proposed recreation park at 20th Street, with fencing to be erected.