Much to the chagrin of a handful of property owners along Mack Avenue in the , the council unanimously approved two projects Monday that are intended to greatly enhance the city.
The first project is the replacement of a water main that is slated to improve water pressure for residents near Mack Avenue--an improvement that will also benefit firefighters responding to a fire.
The second project, a street-scape improvement project, is separate but coupled with the water main replacement with the intent of getting two major projects completed at once. The idea being that while the area is already torn up for the water main, restoring it afterward will come with enhancements, including more landsaping, benches, bike racks and seven more trees.
Combined the projects total more than $2 million.The water main replacement accounts for $1.16 million that will be paid for with a bond through the City's Water and Sewer Fund.
The street scape improvement project is being paid for with a $640,000 Michigan Department of Transportation enhancement grant, $250,000 from the Ruth Hoffman Estate Trust and a $100,000 special assessement on property owners along Mack Avenue.
During a public hearing Monday, five of the 43 property owners in the district spoke against the project. One noted the need for such improvements but said she did have concerns.
The owners voiced concerns about:
- the financial impact on business owners in a time when business is declining and revenue is down
- benches attracting bums or other unseemly people
- trees blocking business signs and decreasing the businesses visibility
- the viability of the new greenery, including shrubs, flowers and grass, following winter when they say often salt spray has been known to kill much of the greenery they had or continue to have
- whether some elements of the project could be eliminated or pared down to ease the financial burden upon the owners
Medical building owner Peter Dow said he finds it appalling that the city would try to do a project of such magnitude in a time when businesses are already struggling. He told the council he does not feel it is his responsibility to replace the sidewalks for the city following a water main replacement.
He also mentioned his struggle to pay the property taxes considering he's been without a tennant for one side of his duplex for more than a year.
Dow also said he believes the City has not done a good job of keeping the property owners informed and involved. The City has been more focused on the business owners rather than the property owners, he said. Dow said he is considering hiring an attorney to fight the assessement.
After hearing all of the public comment, the council spoke about the project individually. All of the councilmembers were complimentary of the project, describing it as well planned, well organized and a significant project that will positively impact the city without costing the city a significant amount.
Councilman Chris Walsh said while he and other council members recognize the burden upon business owners, they have to make decisions based on the good of the whole. He noted how unlikely it would be to ever have complete agreement among 43 different owners in any decision, minor or major.
"Perhaps the most dismal meeting of the year is when Steve Pangori (the city engineer) goes through the unfunded street and water repairs," Walsh said.
"This is the new normal... There is a silver lining," he said, explaining that the city is putting a significant amount of money into the project itself that other business districts--like Fisher Road or the Village--would likely jump at the chance to have. "This is money going to your district," Walsh said. "Pete (Dame) and the city are making every effort to minimize the impact and still help the city."
City Manager Peter Dame also addressed many of the owners concerns:
- Park benches will have dividers to prevent anyone from lying down
- The selection of trees is being made with the idea to have an open view of the storefronts and signs but still have a green, inviting presence higher above the businesses
- the project is time sensitive because the enhancement grant will expire if not used in conjunction with the replacement of the water main
- just doing the bare minimum to the area is not what the business corridor needs, Dame said describing the current conditions as looking "tired."
"There are too many vacancies in businesses now," Dame said. "(The project) will add to the viability of the district. We need to be changing what's going on now."
He also reminded the owners that the city has always required property owners to participate in special assessments for such projects, naming the Village as one example. He compared the assessments between the two, noting the Village owners paid $45 per lineal foot in 1999 and Mack Avenue businesses are to pay $21.50 per lineal foot in 2012.
Additionally, the City spread out the special assessment over three years to ease the burden with no interest or other measures in place.
Business properties are paying by the square foot, meaning larger locations are paying more. The highest assessment is about $9,500 while the smallest is about $680--an amount that will be split into three equal payments due each August through 2014.
The project will begin in the spring of 2012 and will be completed on a block by block basis, the City's engineer, Steve Pangori said, noting how a temporary walkwalk will be created as soon as crews clear the space in front of a business.
The permanent walkways will be put in before the crews move to the next block to begin the next phase of the project as well, he said.