A Master Plan

The Village of Lexington is known for its small-town charm and access to beautiful Lake Huron. The seasonal summer destination spot is looking ahead at how to keep its historic charm, while also attracting year-round residents.

This is just one aspect of the Village of Lexington’s 2020 Master Plan, a comprehensive 150-page document highlighting opportunities for economic development, tourism, infrastructure, public outreach, and vision, compiled from community feedback, presentations, proposals, and market research.

James Van Dyke, Lexington Downtown Development Authority (DDA) Co-Chair, says the village recruited SmithGroup, out of Detroit, to engage in a planning and developmental study, funded by a Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) grant.

“They looked at the mix of retail, housing units, parking, streetscapes and pedestrian flow, all things urban planning and land use,” Van Dyke says. “A big part of that was the analysis they did about how to redevelop the waterfront area of Lexington, how to better connect the waterfront to the village, which is on top of a hill overlooking the waterfront. They looked at where to move parking, where to put the bandshell, and all those things.”

The Village of Lexington harbor.
The Village of Lexington 2020 Master Plan concept art for the marina and docks.
The plan features three different goal areas: land use and development, downtown and waterfront, and economic development and marketing goals.

Van Dyke says the analysis, which took place in 2018, is a “pretty comprehensive analysis for a village the size of Lexington.”

There are four main guiding principles that were crafted from public input, the previous master plan, and best practices in redevelopment planning. The first principle is to encourage compatible infill development while maintaining Lexington’s small-town charm. The second principle is to support housing and employment opportunities for residents of all ages. The third is to promote a healthy quality of life by capitalizing on the village’s walkability, access to Lake Huron, and recreational opportunities. The fourth principle is to maintain quality village services and infrastructure, fiscally-responsible strategic growth, and maintenance of village-owned properties.

Van Dyke says there was a lot of community input included in the drafting of the plan, from a dozen community engagement meetings that kicked off in March 2019. Local residents, business owners, elected officials, and other community stakeholders voiced their opinions and provided thoughts and ideas.

Now that the Master Plan is established, organizations like the DDA and Village Council are utilizing it as a roadmap to help guide their own individual infrastructure projects and activities.

The first pillar of the plan is centered around land use and development goals, including streetscape upgrades to promote the village’s character and provide a welcoming entrance for visitors.

The Village of Lexington downtown community.

The third pillar focuses on downtown and waterfront goals, and an increase in retail spaces for a thriving central business district.

The Village of Lexington 2020 Master Plan main street design concept art.Van Dyke says an interesting point the analysis found was surrounding parking.

“In every community, everybody complains that there isn’t enough parking,” he says. “One of the very interesting points of this plan is that they identified one public parking space for every resident of the village. I think their thesis was there was enough public parking, but it wasn’t organized properly or wayfinding to locate spots in the village, so that’s something we can work on.”

Other waterfront goals include enhancing waterfront open spaces for community recreation, events and tourism, increasing the residential downtown population with mixed-use developments to provide opportunities to live, work, and play. The waterfront district is a big draw for tourists every summer, with the state harbor, private marina and restaurants, boat launch, and Tierney Park as popular destinations. The hope is to capitalize on the waterfront views, improve public access, and create a walkable district which becomes a destination.

Keri Owens-Yankee, Lexington DDA Chairperson, says housing is another important aspect of the Master Plan.

“There are only 1,000 people that live in the village, but we also want to attract younger people to the village as well,” she says. “A lot of the people who live here are not year-round residents. That was a big part of the plan, is that we’re trying to create a Lexington that has more year-round residents, and year-round visitors too, not just the summer season.”

Changing demographics call for varied housing types, including mixed-use properties with loft apartments above retail spaces like pedestrian-oriented retail, grocery, personal services, boutiques, coffee shops, or restaurants. Other options include townhomes, flats, or small lot single-family style cottage housing.

Van Dyke says the village is already seeking state and federal grants to fund specific pieces of the Master Plan, and anticipates changes taking place over the next 3-5 years. Despite the plan being constructed pre-pandemic, Van Dyke says the goals remain the same. In some cases, like the waterfront area, outdoor recreation has only increased since the pandemic, making the plan’s changes to that area even more relevant.

Owens-Yankee says since Lexington has many seasonal features, retail shops are typically prepared for their slow season and were less impacted by COVID.

“They’re able to make changes quickly, to accommodate for that,” she says.

Van Dyke says the pandemic reinforced some things that the small-town charm of Lexington has long reflected.

“I know of a number of people who have moved up here, made this their permanent residence since COVID because they can work from anywhere now,” Van Dyke says. “They say, ‘Why don’t I just work staring at Lake Huron? That sounds nice.’”

Downtown businesses in the Village of Lexington.

Remote working is another aspect the village hopes can utilize to their benefit, in attracting and retaining the next younger generation of workers and residents. Younger families and young professionals are less likely to vacate the village, as opposed to their ‘snowbird’ elders. Creating housing and lifestyle considerations are important tools to attract year-long residents, Van Dyke says.

Another important talking point for the village’s future focuses on connectivity and accessibility, says Van Dyke.

“One of the things we’re talking about with our federal representatives is how to bring some money to the area that could help connect Lexington with the other villages up and down the Huron Coast, all the way to Port Huron,” he says. “Part of the thing we’ve been talking about is how to better connect the village, down to commercial centers or through water transport – ways to more easily hop between villages by boat, or non-motorized transportation like bike paths and running paths. This has kind of reinvigorated that whole conversation.”

Van Dyke is grateful for the grant which made the planning document possible and feels optimistic that the future of Lexington is in good hands.

“I’ve been encouraged that this year there’s been so much talk and reference to the plan that we’ve all worked on,” he says. “That tells me that there’s a higher likelihood of success. For a community that has historically had diverging opinions about the future, I was encouraged with how cohesive the plan is, and how it brought the community into a single path.”

He’s also hopeful that residents and visitors alike can view the plan’s goals, and look internally as to how they might be able to act as a piece of the larger puzzle.

“What’s encouraging is that we’re getting input from the public at our DDA meetings all the time,” he says.

Owens-Yankee says there are currently open seats on the Lexington DDA for those hoping to get more involved in their community.

To learn more about the plans and the Village of Lexington, visit villageoflexington.com.
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Read more articles by Sarah Spohn.

Sarah Spohn is a Lansing resident, but every day finds a new interesting person, place, or thing in towns all over Michigan leaving her truly smitten with the mitten. She received her degrees in journalism and professional communications and provides coverage for various publications locally, regionally, and nationally — writing stories on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, community, and anything Michigan-made. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at sarahspohn.news@gmail.com.