Walking downtown New Buffalo this time of year is a challenge since many of the property owners don’t clear the snow from their sidewalks, either because there is no images (22)place to pile it or they aren’t around in the winter. But whatever the reason, it’s safer to walk down the middle of Whittaker than struggling over the snow and ice. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you ever have the opportunity to escape to Grand Haven, Holland or Grand Rapids this time of year, the sidewalks clear of ice and snow makes walking and shopping a pleasure.

‘The snowmelt system is made up of a series of tubes beneath the sidewalks and roads in the first three blocks of Downtown Grand Haven. Water diverted from the Grand River and nearby Board of Light and Power runs through the tubing, warming the substructure and preventing the surface from accumulating snow and ice. As a result, people can wander around without worrying about slips and falls. The next time the weather threatens to shut down your excursion, head on down to Downtown Grand Haven where the sidewalks and streets are always clear!’

When the downtown sidewalks and streets in Holland, Michigan were torn up in 1988, it was decided a snowmelt system made sense to the city on the shore of Lake Michigan.  Expansion over time continued due to the success. From a radio interview from a past Holland mayor ‘Imagine, in the wake of a big snowstorm, city sidewalks and streets that never get caked with snow and ice. No salt, no slopping your way through slush or gingerly walking on ice.’ Holland Radio Interview

The residents of Grand Rapids made shutting off of the snowmelt system an annual  ‘rite of spring’ event.  From a MLIVE article ‘The 16-year-old snowmelt system works with Grand Rapids2heated water that flows through tubing laid beneath the brick pavers on downtown sidewalks. The cost of the system is borne by a special assessment district funded by downtown property owners who benefit from the system. There also are several privately owned snowmelt systems in the downtown area.’


Although the costs are substantial, cities with snowmelt systems generate more revenue due to the increase in year round  accessibility.  Since the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) captures all increases in taxes in the downtown district through Tax Incremental Funding (TIF), these taxes can be used for maintenance and operating costs for a snowmelt system.
3682126If green technology isn’t part of the master planning for New Buffalo’s downtown, as it continues to be more accessible and financially viable, it should be.  Solar and wind are clean energy sources of the future that are capable of heating and lighting the entire DDA district at a much lower cost. Winters are harsh but with the environmentally friendly aspects of solar energy, it could make New Buffalo a welcoming green city destination for everyone all year round.

4 thoughts on “Snowmelt

  1. Susan Gotfried Post author

    Discussion is fine but the document is not a master plan until it goes through a public hearing process input from neighboring communities. We shouldn’t start referring to it as a “newer” master plan because it was never approved by the Planning Commision. But what discussion points are you referring to?

  2. Susan Gotfried Post author

    Good points Jojo. I don’t know if there any plans to incorporate solar or wind technology into the downtown development but if not, it is a mis opportunity that will impact the city for decades. The city council moved forward with digging up the downtown prior to having a completed master plan or public hearings. In fact, the whole city planning is reduced to piecemealing since there has been no master plan since the one from 2003 – 2010. It is shameful to start a multi million dollar project without well thought out citywide master planning that includes best practices from other communities. Ir is doubtful if any members of the DDA board or city council ever attended advanced MSU workshops on city planning, they prefer winging it. Unfortunately this is one of the reasons the city council depends on the casino funding, there is no requirement for long term master planning. State and Federal guidelines requires a master plan for government grants. The New Buffalo Times quoted a DDA representative in an article stating that the Planning Commission assists in writing a master plan. None of these leaders, either on the DDA board or the city council, appear to know the Michigan Planning Enabling Act authorizes Planning Commissions to write the master plans not assist in writing them. The city council has been moving to marginalize the Planning Commission since 2014 and even though there hasn’t been a master plan for seven years, the Planning Commission just reduced their meeting schedule to meet quarterly instead of monthly. Except for a few individuals, nobody on the Planning Commission must have ever read the state law or city ordinance that provides them statutory authority. Everyone involved with the downtown development appears more interested in cosmetic issues such as the big controversy about the lighting style instead of focusing on long-term planning that increases the downtown viability to year round incorporating 21st century technology. The lack of curiosity and foresight in the leadership of New buffalo is historic – just look at the jumble of condos that deface our lake front, the deterioration of streets citywide or the illegal PUD on Merchant Street.

  3. JoJo

    One would HOPE local officials would have been smart enough to seek out best practices, to emulate successful municipalities, to attend advanced MSU workshops on city planning, and/or to garner specific information to do the project well, using 21st century concepts, especially considering how much moolah they are expending. Does anyone on that council know how to replicate proven concepts? Has anyone on that city council conducted a site visit at Grand Haven, etc. to learn about such “advanced” municipal systems, to better an idea of how to improve their city? Or, do the NB council members just go about projects with their own limited, unskilled perspective, thinking they are grand because there is casino money at hand to throw at a project? Shameful ignorance of what COULD be (and I thought at least one of them had a degree).

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