Ossineke sees blight vanishing, business growth

OSSINEKE – Residents in Ossineke are experiencing a mini building boom. Several home owners are sprucing up their dwellings, a couple business owners are expanding and a Family Dollar discount store is under construction on US-23, officials said Thursday.

The community also is in the process of updating its master plan and zoning ordinance, and has a blight inspector on duty, Sanborn Township Clerk Lynda VanDusen said.

“The economy is coming up,” she said.

VanDusen and others also credit the recovery to a drop in crime after three law enforcement sweeps netted more than a dozen fugitives. Officers also arrested parole and probation violators, people driving with suspended licenses, illegal aliens, drunken drivers and others committing violations.

The first sweep occurred July 2012, followed by additional sweeps in March and September, Michigan State Police Lt. Mike Hahn said Thursday.

“In any community an increase in police activity and police presence is going to result in a reduction in crime,” he said. “We knew there were a lot of people living in that community who had warrants for their arrests. We also knew there were a lot of people there breaking into homes and stealing.”

As word got out that arrests were being made, activity dropped, he said.

Residents said that during the peace and quiet that followed, some property owners began upgrading store fronts and homes. The discount store is going up on a blighted site once occupied by a drive-through bank.

“There’s a new confidence in our community because we take care of each other here,” resident Salina Funk said. “We’ve created a bubble and within that bubble we have safety.”

Funk, her husband, attorney Dave Funk, and a group of residents decided to tackle crime issues by talking about what was going on in their community. Incidents included assaults, thefts and vandalism, she said.

“The tragedy was people were being victimized and when we all came together and decided to make a move, things changed,” she said.

The last straw for her occurred when some locals tore up and stole aircraft-grade aluminum irrigation pipes in her yard. The pipes were being used to maintain flower gardens.

Funk tracked down the missing pipes and notified law enforcement officers of who the suspects were. But she had to wait five hours for a response. Afterward, she said, she was told to keep it quiet.

Out of frustration, Funk said her husband ran into Hahn at an Alpena grocery store and asked for help.

Hahn confirmed a spike in Ossineke crime statistics, and the Alpena post, which he heads, came up with a plan. On July 16-17, 2012, troopers from the MSP Seventh District Homeland Security Team, the Seventh District Fugitive Apprehension Team and Michigan Department of Corrections made sweeps through the Sanborn and Ossineke townships, Hahn said. Later sweeps followed March 20-21, and most recently Sept. 9-10.

Funk and 40 residents also started up Lock and Stop, a new citizen’s watch group. Some also attended a program by Alpena County Sheriff’s Office Det. Mike Lash, “Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design.”

“We worked as a family in the Sanborn-Ossineke townships to create a safer living environment,” Funk said. “We send out smoke signals if anything strange happens.”

One of the first indications of an economic uptick occurred when Connie Stephan’s husband, Gary, bought Dinosaur Gardens this past spring and upgraded its facilities. The couple owns Connie’s Cafe, and have turned the community into a mecca for cancer survivors by planting memorial gardens and holding numerous fundraisers.

“People were just relieved Dinosaur Gardens wasn’t closed,” Connie Stephan said. “People brought their grandchildren back. They just loved it and the schools came.”

With that venue revived, other businesses took on projects. The Alpena Alcona Area Credit Union remodeled the exterior of its building. FirstMerit took over the Citizens Bank building, giving it a facelift.

Business owner AnnMarie Greenwald expanded her furniture and accessories shop by moving from a cramped store near the post office to the old soda bottling building, last known as Cranbrook Studios. Her effort infused life back into the two-story building, as she filled storefront windows with merchandise, redid signage and put out pots of flowers.

Greenwald also credited the law enforcement actions and today is operating her business debt free. She has even installed a small coffee room upstairs for her customers.

Bob Nolan of Hubbard Lake and a construction crew were working on remodeling a row of tiny apartments next to FirstMerit, and also will make improvements to an adjacent home for the property owner.

That effort will erase more blight along the highway.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a boom, just necessary upgrades,” Nolan said. “We want people to be proud of this community. A lot of people are feeling it. It’s time to forget what the government’s doing and get some work done.”

Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at blehndorff@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.