Wayne State students analyze Hazel Park’s master plan

Study will help inform how the city proceeds with revising goals

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published August 6, 2014

HAZEL PARK — Students pursuing their master’s degree in urban planning at Wayne State University recently presented their capstone project analyzing the city of Hazel Park and what long-term goals could be incorporated into the city’s master plan, which hasn’t been updated since 2000.

The presentation was held in the council chambers at Hazel Park City Hall July 29, beginning with an overview of the city’s struggles — including the prospect of a $2 million deficit in 2015 — and the difficulty of attracting and retaining new residents and businesses.

The study analyzed the John R corridor, Nine Mile corridor and Hazel Park Raceway, and concluded there are opportunities to leverage the city’s assets in these areas to reshape the image of Hazel Park and foster meaningful growth for the future.

The study took three months to complete. One of the presenters from Wayne State, Cheryl Williams-Kearney, actually earned her master’s degree in May but was there presenting the capstone project since it’s done in the summer months, when aspiring urban planners are better able to conduct site visits. 

“This is the culmination of their entire schooling at WSU,” said Jeff Campbell, assistant city manager of Hazel Park. “They’re applying everything they’ve learned to a real-world experience.”

The project envisions a Hazel Park that would look much different than it does today.

For starters, the study recommended that both the John R and Nine Mile corridors rework their roads for overall safety, accessibility and visibility in Hazel Park. Both roads should be three-lane streets with a left-turn lane in the middle, the students said, which would reduce the most common type of car accidents according to SEMCOG: Rear-end collisions, which occur due to distracted drivers not stopping in time when someone up ahead slows to make a left turn.

The inclusion of a left-turn lane would also make the roads better suited for another suggested change: The addition of more crosswalks along both Nine Mile and John R. Currently, pedestrians sometimes have to walk several blocks one way to reach a designated crosswalk and then double back to their destination — an inconvenience that either discourages people from patronizing businesses or encourages jaywalking.

Bike racks and bike lanes were also recommended for both sides of the road, as well as increased green spaces separating the roads from the sidewalks, which would feature more trees for shade and curb appeal.

And while there’s no precedent for it in Michigan, the I-75 overpass could be renovated to include green shoulders with trees, so that motorists crossing the bridge wouldn’t see the concrete sprawl of I-75 when looking left or right, and so pedestrians wouldn’t feel sandwiched on a tight sidewalk between the railing and roadway.

Revising the ordinance on building colors would also make the city more attractive, the study said. Currently, the city requires buildings to maintain a muted color scheme. The city should instead encourage businesses to use vibrant colors, like reds and yellows, to stand out from each other instead of blurring together as one indistinguishable mass. Vibrant colors would not only aid in visibility, the study said, but they would also help to create a stronger sense of place.

Increasing the window coverage on first-level storefronts and other businesses would be another way to make Hazel Park more inviting, the study said. Currently, there are areas in the Nine Mile and John R corridors where the buildings have few windows. Increasing the window coverage not only entices more people to patronize the business, but it also helps people walking the streets to feel safe since they know that what happens to them is visible to others.

Removing the current city ordinance of awnings would also help, according to the study. Allowing businesses to extend their awnings farther out would encourage the creation of outdoor patios and encourage people to shop even when it’s raining. 

There is also the issue of the many signs in Hazel Park, which create a negative tone: “No standing,” “No stopping,” and so forth. The study suggested finding ways to cut back on the constant warnings, and instead utilize signs that point visitors to amenities in the city they might not know about, like Scout Park. 

Some of the most ambitious ideas involved Hazel Park Raceway, which occupies about 10 percent of the city’s geographic footprint. The raceway controls 121 acres; if it were to lease out 55 acres and let them be redeveloped into other attractions, it would make for a denser location that offers more value to more people.

For example, the seven stables could be relocated from the Couzens side of the track to the Dequindre side, which would also provide a backdrop at the far end of the track, making it easier to follow the horses as they race. Relocating the stables would free up space on the west side of the track that could then be turned into a college-caliber sports complex and a mixed-use shopping plaza that the study called “Pioneer Village.” A focus on variable building heights, with the tallest buildings toward the middle of the village, would allow businesses to attract visitors, who would now have more reasons to visit the track in the first place.

Such an endeavor would come at a whopping price tag of $100 million, money that the city of Hazel Park simply does not have. But the study said that diversifying the area’s offerings would make great use of space that is currently under-utilized, and said it would be a good long-term goal for the track and city alike. 

All of the recommendations were made with the intention of guiding Hazel Park toward a more prosperous future. The ideal approach to a master plan is to revise it every five years, but it’s rare that a city does this. Hazel Park is now updating their master plan, and officials say the findings by WSU will definitely help.

“We’re so very pleased that the Department of Urban Studies at Wayne State chose Hazel Park to be the target community for their capstone assignment,” said Hazel Park City Manager Ed Klobucher. “We’re very excited to be able to take advantage of the wealth of knowledge and education these students are bringing to Hazel Park.”

The full findings of Wayne State University’s urban planning project are now available at the city’s website, www.hazelpark.org.