‘Green space’ project gets back on track

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published August 28, 2012

 A federally funded transformation of a blighted property at Van Dyke and Utica Road into a municipal green space is getting under way two years after City Council approved the project.

A federally funded transformation of a blighted property at Van Dyke and Utica Road into a municipal green space is getting under way two years after City Council approved the project.

File photo by Cortney Casey

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Two years after earning City Council’s approval, the federally funded transformation of a former gas station into a municipal park — kind of — is finally getting under way.

As part of their Aug. 8 consent agenda, council members awarded a $170,000 contract to overhaul the triangular property at the Van Dyke and Utica Road intersection, once home to a Speedway gas station.

Drawing from $2.4 million in Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds allocated to the city under the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, council agreed in September 2010 to purchase the land for $260,000 with intentions of creating a “passive park.”

Community Relations Director Steve Guitar said administrators have since been referring to the parcel as “open green space,” as it will function more as a pedestrian stop and attractive gateway to the Van Dyke commercial corridor than a full-scale park with interactive attractions.

“It’s a blighted corner, and it’s been blighted for several years. … That will spruce up the area,” he said. “We’re hoping, along with the other improvements we’ve made in the corridor in recent years — the trash receptacles, the bus stations, the decorative seating and all that — that will be the start of things to come in that area.”

The site as purchased contained a boarded-up white structure — once the station’s main building, vacant for more than a decade — along with a cracked parking lot and a handful of trees and shrubs.

City Engineer Brent Bashaw pegged Nov. 15 as the anticipated completion date on the improvements, which will include stamped concrete surfaces, decorative lighting, landscaping, an irrigation system, park benches and bike racks.

A masonry monument sign, as approved by the Corridor Improvement Authority Aug. 20, will identify the area as the “North Van Dyke River District.”

There won’t be a parking lot, and back when the project was approved in September 2010, Denice Gerstenberg, then the city’s public services manager, described the resulting space as more of a passive “pocket park.”

At that time, she theorized that the property likely failed to generate much interest from buyers because the awkward configuration would accommodate only a tiny building. Also, Speedway, which constructed a new facility across the street, placed a non-compete clause on the parcel, forbidding the purchaser from erecting another gas station or convenience store there, she said.

Guitar said there were several potential purchasers over the years, including a few doughnut shops, but none of the discussions panned out.

“There just wasn’t a lot to be done with it,” he said.

Also, while the station’s underground gas tanks were removed nearly 10 years prior, environmental issues continued to plague the site, Gerstenberg said in 2010.

Bashaw said it was rectification of those issues that held up progress on the park. The purchase agreement earmarked $10,000 for soil remediation and required Speedway to perform the work. That process, he said, took longer than anticipated.

“Speedway had some site remediation, some environmental cleanup to do, before we could close on the property,” he said. “The remediation was completed and approved by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and once the remediation was approved, then the city could close on the property,” which occurred in June.

The delay resulted in the expiration of the original contract, which was awarded to Rodeo Homes in September 2010, requiring council to vote on the matter anew. Based on review of a new wave of bids submitted this May, the Office of Engineering recommended awarding the bid to Caasti Contracting.

Despite the Detroit-based company’s status as the second-lowest bidder, the contract still came in 1.2 percent below the city’s original project estimate, according to a memo from Bashaw to council.

Bashaw said the city has only until March 2013 to expend the federal NSP dollars on this and other endeavors as set forth in a plan approved by council several years ago.

Though the consent agenda containing the bid award passed unanimously, Councilman Paul Smith, who opposed the project prior to his election, said his feelings haven’t changed.

“It’s a total and absolute waste of money, but it was a done deal long ago, so I didn’t waste my breath speaking against (it) again,” he said in an email. “Even if it is largely federal grant money, it could have been spent better.”

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