2017 delivers road work, Amazon and a big birthday

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published January 3, 2018

 Keith Walters hits the ball thrown by pitcher Pat Mayette, both of the Rochester Grangers Vintage Base Ball Club, at the opening ceremony for the city’s bicentennial anniversary celebration at Jimmy John’s Field June 22.

Keith Walters hits the ball thrown by pitcher Pat Mayette, both of the Rochester Grangers Vintage Base Ball Club, at the opening ceremony for the city’s bicentennial anniversary celebration at Jimmy John’s Field June 22.

File photo by Erin Sanchez

SHELBY TOWNSHIP/UTICA — Some of the biggest news out of Shelby Township and Utica in 2017 included the reconstruction of M-59; the bicentennial celebration of the city of Utica; the announcement of an Amazon logistics distribution center; a large portion of the northeast section of Shelby Township receiving sanitary sewer services; and the consolidation, sale and expansion of government-owned buildings.

A brand new road
In March, the Michigan Department of Transportation began a 3.7-mile, $65 million Hall Road reconstruction project. MDOT says the project will improve stability and traffic flow and extend the life of the roadway by 20 years.

Phase I — which spanned from Delco Boulevard, just east of M-53, to Hayes Road — concluded in late October.

Phase II will span from Hayes to Romeo Plank roads, and MDOT estimates that it will conclude in spring 2018.

The scope of the project includes complete pavement reconstruction using hot mix asphalt, drainage improvements, handicapped-accessible ramps, landscaping and connecting all sidewalks. It affects Shelby Township, Utica, Sterling Heights, Macomb Township and Clinton Township.

On March 7, the Shelby Township Board of Trustees unanimously approved two cost-sharing agreements, one with the Michigan Department of Transportation and one with the Macomb County Department of Roads, at a total cost of $194,067 in relation to the M-59 project.

The MDOT contract with Shelby Township includes mast-arm signals, LED street name signs, stamped-asphalt crosswalk construction work and sidewalks. The MCDR contract includes pedestrian crossings.

In a prior interview, former Utica Mayor Jacqueline Noonan said the city was interested in the mast-arm signal option, but its biggest problem was a lack of funds.

As part of the project in Utica, MDOT included basic box-span traffic signals, which feature signals suspended by cables hanging over roads instead of the black mast-arm signals.

“I know that for anybody who drives (on Hall Road), this is a long-overdue project,” Shelby Township Treasurer Michael Flynn said.

For more information about the project, visit www.movingmacomb.org.

Turning 200
The city of Utica celebrated its 200th birthday June 22-25 in the heart of its downtown district.

The four-day event kicked off with opening ceremonies — including a historical highlight video presentation, a performance by the Utica High School marching band, and old-fashioned and regular-season baseball games — at Jimmy John’s Field on Thursday, June 22.

Other planned festivities included live entertainment; a carnival and food court; a petting zoo; face painting and other kids activities; art, antique and local product vendors; a beer tent; and kayak and canoe rides.

“We’re really excited to invite our friends and neighbors to our little downtown to celebrate our historic 200-year celebration,” Utica Mayor Thom Dionne said. “We’re also excited to showcase the new events happening downtown, the influx of new businesses and the jewel of Macomb County, Jimmy John’s Field.”

For more information about city events, visit www.utica-events.com.

Amazon is coming to town
At 12:05 a.m. Sept. 14 — 9:05 p.m. Sept. 13 on the West Coast — Amazon announced that it will build a 1 million-square-foot fulfillment center at 23 Mile and Mound roads in Shelby Township.

Inventory at the fulfillment center, slated to open in 2018, will include household décor, sports equipment and gardening tools.

The project includes a proposed $90 million investment and 1,000 full-time jobs with benefits, according to the retailer. Local officials praised the partnerships that occurred at the township, county and state levels to bring the project to fruition.

“It’s one of the largest development initiatives our department has ever been involved in, and also one of the largest environmental remediations in the county’s history,” Macomb County Planning and Economic Development Department Director John Paul Rea said.

Hillwood Enterprises, a development company based out of Illinois, plans to remediate the contaminated property using tax increment financing for eligible reimbursement to the tune of approximately $9.1 million over a 20-year capture period.

The property previously was used for industrial purposes, including automobile manufacturing, from 1951 to 2009 by Ford Motor Co., Visteon Corp. and Automotive Components Holdings LLC, according to the brownfield plan.

“It’s not just the property, but they looked at the workforce, education, entertainment, quality of life and housing opportunities and realized this is an area that best suits their needs, and what they have to offer suits our needs,” Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said. “We’re pretty excited.”

Shelby Township Supervisor Rick Stathakis said that prior to Amazon coming in, the township’s best hope for the land was outdoor storage.

“Michigan has been a great place to do business for Amazon, and we look forward to adding a new fulfillment center to better serve our customers in the region,” said Sanjay Shah, Amazon’s vice president of North American operations, in a statement. “The state has been a source of exceptional talent for Amazon, and we’re proud to be creating great jobs with benefits for Michiganders.”

Since 2016, Amazon has announced multiple facilities in Michigan — including three fulfillment centers and one sortation center in Livonia, Romulus, Brownstown Township and Shelby Township, as well as a corporate office in Detroit — bringing with it more than 3,500 jobs, according to a press release.

Controversial sanitary sewer water lines coming to northeast portion of township
On Dec. 5, the Shelby Township Board of Trustees voted unanimously to adopt the fifth and final resolution to provide sanitary sewer services to a large portion of the northeast corner of the township, for a total cost of $8,845,652.

The board also unanimously awarded the construction contract to Shelby Township-based Dan’s Excavating for $6,000,575.

The sanitary sewer district stretches from 25 Mile to 26 Mile roads and from Hayes to Jewell roads.

The township will finance the construction of the special assessment district (SAD) through a loan from the township’s sewer fund, and property owners in the district will have 10 years to pay their assessed cost back at a 2.5 percent interest rate.

Shelby Township Department of Public Works Director David Miller said Public Act 188 allows a group of property owners to combine and create an SAD by submitting petitions to the township. The requirement for sufficiency to create the district is 51 percent.

The original sufficiency in the SAD was 64.8 percent. Miller said the township originally designed the sanitary sewer to include the most people it could, because the township thought residents would want to be on city water.

Due to residents’ comments and objections during a Jan. 18, 2017, public hearing, largely from those with wells and septic tanks and/or those who do not want an added cost, the township went back and rerouted the proposed sewer line.

The originally proposed SAD included 82 properties, comprising 913.58 acres. The current project alignment includes 33 properties, comprising 686.4 acres, and has an 82.86 percent sufficiency.

On Nov. 21, the Shelby Township Board of Trustees voted unanimously to pass resolution No. 4, establishing the cost of the creation of a sanitary sewer district at $8,845,692. Township Assessor Matt Schmidt determined the roll.

On Nov. 21, the board also resolved to finance the construction of the sanitary sewer with money from the township’s water and sewer contingencies fund.

The resolution carried in a 5-2 vote, with Trustees Lynn Wilhelm and Vince Viviano voting against it. The pair voted “no” because of concerns raised about the 2.5 percent interest rate in a public hearing, in which several residents and a legal representative voiced concerns with the SAD process.

At the Dec. 5 meeting, Viviano said he and Wilhelm had since grown to be in agreement with the interest rate.

On Dec. 5, Treasurer Michael Flynn said that the current bond rate is “incredibly low — it’s probably at a 20- or 30-year low,” so the 2.5 percent interest rate “is a very fair and reasonable rate.”

Township Attorney Rob Huth said the six-month process included making arrangements with residents with respect to trees, connections and other concerns.

“Frankly, we can offer more to the residents if we know that we don’t have to pay for legal. And it’s not just my legal; it’s their legal, because the state requires us, if we go to court, to pay for their lawyers,” he said at the Dec. 5 meeting.

For more information about the SAD, call the Shelby Township DPW at (586) 726-7272.

‘This was a dream for many years that now is a reality’
Shelby Township officials have been working for some time to solve the 2017 No. 1 priority — addressing the Shelby Community Center’s needs — and finding ways to finance it.

The Shelby Community Center, located near 23 Mile and Schoenherr roads, is a revamped elementary school and currently houses the 41-A District Court, library, senior center and cable TV offices.

On Dec. 5, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to approve a revised site plan and award the construction contract for the new 41-A District Court building on the township municipal grounds.

The 18,539-square-foot building will be built south of the existing Police Department by Bernco Inc. for approximately $5.2 million, and the parking lot in front of the Police Department will be expanded to the south to accommodate parking for the court.

On Sept. 20, the township announced the preliminary layout for the court building, as well as a proposed $9 million Community Center building and a $2 million Police Department expansion at the municipal complex, with all construction set to be complete by 2020.

“This was a dream for many years that is now a reality,” said Shelby Township Trustee Doug Wozniak, a member of the Community Center Advisory Board, at the Sept. 20 Board of Trustees meeting. “Now we’re on the verge of having all of our services together on the campus where they belong.”

The court will be situated adjacent to the Police Department; the Police Department expansion will add a second story and expand the rear of the building; and the Community Center will be constructed where the Parks, Recreation and Maintenance Department, a garage and gas pumps are currently located.

The two-story Community Center is slated to house the library, senior center, PRM Department and Shelby TV offices. The township plans to move the gas pumps to the Shelby Township Department of Public Works, located near 23 Mile and Mound roads, and the garage to River Bends Park, located near 22 Mile and Ryan roads.

On Dec. 14, the township also sold Shelby Manor, a township-owned senior living apartment complex located near Hall and Schoenherr roads, for $14 million to Shelby Township-based Shamrock Acquisitions LLC.

Shelby Township Treasurer Michael Flynn said he had been eyeing Shelby Manor as a good source of income for the township since 2008.

After being tasked by Supervisor Rick Stathakis to find funds to build a new library and senior center, Flynn said selling the senior living apartment complex was his first thought.

“I’ve always thought, as a conservative Republican, that we shouldn’t be in the apartment business,” he said. “I knew the (maturation of the) bonds (for the property) were coming up in October of this year, so the planets all aligned when Supervisor Stathakis requested I look to find that money.”

The funds from the sale will not only fund the construction of the new library and senior center, but also go toward outstanding retiree health care costs.

For more information, call the Treasurer’s Office at (586) 731-5154.

UCS deals with budgetary perils, collective bargaining
In October, auditing firm Plante Moran announced in a report on the 2016-17 audit that, unlike in most years, UCS actually increased its fund reserves that fiscal year due to a one-time sale of land.

However, the firm warned that the district still faced financial challenges. UCS officials expected to tap into the fund balance in 2017-18 when they adopted that fiscal year’s budget in June, citing declining enrollment and insufficient state funding as reasons.

Meanwhile, according to UCS, the district and the Utica Education Association teachers union began collective bargaining talks in March, entered mediation in August and then entered a fact-finding hearing in late November.

Then a third-party fact-finder, George Roumell Jr., issued 14 recommendations on a teacher labor contract that deal with benefits, furlough days, teacher pay and more. He urged a deal as soon as possible, adding that the district’s finances were unsustainable and on the road to trouble. At press time, a deal had not been reached.

In December, UCS Board of Education legal counsel Gary Collins said the district intends to negotiate based on the fact-finding report. According to UEA President Liza Parkinson, the teachers’ prior contract ended in June. She said her union has offered concessions, and she called the fact-finding report “inaccurate and misleading.”

Staff Writer Eric Czarnik contributed to this report.