ELECTION 2016: Wendy Witkop Q&A, Candidate for Trustee, Peninsula Township

"Of course there is going to be development, but with proper standards, we can control how much and where that development happens."

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Wendy Witkop | Photo courtesy of Wendy Witkop

The Primary Election will take place on August 2, 2016 in Peninsula Township, Grand Traverse County. Following is a Q&A with Wendy Witkop, candidate for Peninsula Township Trustee.

Click here for links to Q&As with all the candidates who’ve responded to our request. To print this Q&A, click the printer icon at the top of this post. To download a sample ballot for Peninsula Township, click here.

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(Editor’s Note: Current Township Supervisor, Pete Correia, did not respond to our request for a Q&A).

Why are you running for the position of Township Trustee for Peninsula Township, and what qualifications will you bring to the role?

I am running for the trustee position because I love our community. In 2012, I took a job outside of our township, but I knew that I wanted to stay involved, so the trustee position just made sense. I bring experience to this position, both in zoning and assessing, with the ability to step back from situations and keep an open mind. I rarely walk into a meeting, either Township Board or Zoning Board of Appeals, knowing how I am going to vote on an issue.

What is your vision for Peninsula Township in 10, 20, 50 years? Do you support maintaining the rural character of the Old Mission Peninsula?

I absolutely support maintaining the rural character of our Township and don’t want to see that character change. Of course there is going to be development, but with proper standards, we can control how much and where that development happens. Keeping our open spaces, views, steep slopes, and agricultural lands intact is good for everyone.

Do you support large scale developments such as “The 81,” a development bordering Boursaw Road that includes 41 home sites and up to 40 boat slips in East Bay? Why or why not?

It really shouldn’t be a question of supporting large scale developments or not. Of course families want to move to our peninsula, and developers want to profit from it. What is needed is stronger and clearer regulation regarding these developments. We need to educate ourselves about what we can and cannot regulate, discuss what we want to regulate, and make the necessary changes to our Zoning Ordinance before a development like “The 81” is submitted.

Much controversy is currently surrounding the Peninsula Fire Department, including resignations from the Fire Board, unionization of the fire department, discussion about the sale of fire equipment (including the Safe Boat), and discussion about the fire department being absorbed into Traverse City, with Peninsula Township contracting for those services. Do you support maintaining a strong and independent fire department in Peninsula Township? Why or why not? If yes, what steps will you take to ensure that?

I believe there are many advantages to keeping our Community Fire Department independent and fully supported by our residents and Township Board. The men and women in our department routinely go above and beyond normal requirements when responding to calls; they take extra time with patients (many on a first name basis) and want to be a part of the community. I believe that would be lost when absorbed into a larger fire department. While there are communities that make the decision to merge with other departments, either because of call volume or financing, we, fortunately, are not in that position. We need to educate our Board members who will be making these decisions. The days of assuming everything is going fine on the fire department are gone. This is the largest portion of our budget and the least understood.

TCAPS has recommended closing Old Mission Peninsula School (OMPS) at the end of the 2018 school year, with Old Mission children attending Eastern Elementary School going forward. This would also necessitate the Peninsula Community Library finding a new home. However, an anonymous Old Mission Peninsula resident has pledged $800,000+ to help keep OMPS open. Do you support keeping OMPS open? Why or why not?

My support for keeping OMPS open is based on the money spent to renovate the school, and the fact that the library resides in the school near the children who attend OMPS. While I understand that not every school is going to be able to remain open, there seems to be lacking a long term plan. Ultimately, the most important issue is that our children get a great education, regardless of where they attend grade school. The pledge of $800,000+ is very generous, but it will probably only push the problem down the road. I don’t agree with extensive renovation of a school, only to close that school and move our kids to another school that needs to be renovated.

A Bowers Harbor Park expansion is currently in the works, with a committee meeting regularly to move this project forward. What is your vision for this expansion? Would you like to see a more family-friendly park, with new play structures? Or would you rather see a more passive park, with additional walking trails and improvements to the current play structures?

We are so fortunate to have the park areas that we have. Currently, our parks include a passive park at the Pelizzari Natural Area, a waterfront park at Haserot, and 300+ wooded acres at the north end surrounding the Lighthouse. I have been very clear that I believe we need to spend the money and energy to expand Bowers Harbor Park in a way that will encourages families to want to spend the day there. I would like to see drinking fountains, bigger pavilions, grills, bathrooms, and new, safe play equipment.

How would you engage Peninsula Township residents in the decision-making process at the Township level? How will you ensure community transparency in finances, meetings and decisions?

There are a lot of decisions that property owners count on the Board of Trustees to make, but when an issue has the potential to directly affect each property owner, we need to do a better job of getting the information out and seeking input. I would like to see a township “blog” for those who use the Internet, mailing of postcards to seek input on big issues, current issues posted on the website, and more “round table” type meetings with the public.

Anything else you’d like to convey to residents of Peninsula Township?

It has been a pleasure serving in the Trustee position. I have learned a lot, met a lot of great people, and would be happy to do it for another four years if that is the decision made on August 2.

A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So I started my own newspaper.

Because Old Mission Gazette is a "Reader Supported Newspaper" -- meaning it exists because of your financial support -- I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks our way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the OMP. In a time when local news is becoming a thing of the past, supporting an independent community newspaper is more important now than ever.

To keep the Gazette going, click here to make a donation. Thank you so much for your support. -jb

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