City airs quality-of-life ideas at planning meeting

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published February 1, 2016

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Parks, art and entertainment options were prominent in city officials’ recent presentations of strategic planning ideas.

During a Jan. 26 special meeting, City Council members listened to city officials as they discussed ways to improve Sterling Heights’ parks, the Richard J. Notte Sterling Heights City Center, the Clinton River area and more.

City Manager Mark Vanderpool referenced Visioning 2030 plan goals of giving Sterling Heights a sense of character and place while making it a destination for new families. He said the city, as it looks ahead to the next 50 years, must invest in quality-of-life services to avoid the fate that other cities have faced after they age and fully build out.

“Sterling Heights refused to accept a path of stagnation and potential decline and instead, two years ago, embarked on an exciting Visioning 2030 process,” Vanderpool said.

The city’s vision statement, approved in 2014, calls for “a vibrant, inclusive community” that is “safe, active, progressive and distinctive.”

Guiding principles focus on neighborhoods, schools, roads, green spaces, bike and walking pathways, commercial centers, industry, destination focal points, and “plentiful leisure and recreation opportunities.”

Parks and recreation
During the meeting, Parks and Recreation Director Kyle Langlois linked higher property values and lower crime to quality parks and their related activities. He said such amenities provide options for socialization, entertainment, and health and wellness.

“This is the foundation for creating the social, cultural fabric of our community,” he said.

Langlois said the city has more than 1,000 acres of dedicated parkland, and officials hope to rehabilitate neighborhood parks in the future by repairing fences, resurfacing paths, replacing old park entrance signs, replacing play structures that no longer meet national safety standards and more. He said repairs would be modeled after how the city repaired Beaver Creek Park a couple of years ago.

“These renovations went a long way towards bringing people back to that park,” he said.

One of Langlois’ focal points was the idea of a new, 100,000-square-foot community center that could replace the city’s current 13,000-square-foot Recreation Center. The proposed center could have four gymnasiums, five dance and fitness rooms, gathering rooms, and a walking and jogging track, he said.

The new community center would be built at an open space across Utica Road, near City Hall. He explained that the facility’s multiple gymnasiums would mean that the city wouldn’t have to rely on schools to provide such space.

Other projects that Langlois proposed included a splash park for kids; a 1-acre skatepark; an artificial-turf, downsized soccer field; and a dog park that could be located where Magnolia Park currently is. He added that the city’s nature preserve could benefit with a proposed nonmotorized hike and bike path that connects it to Delia Park.

In addition, the city is looking at building a permanent farmers market pavilion structure that could potentially double as a skating rink, Langlois said.

Looking back, Langlois said the Dodge Park Farmers Market’s success in its inaugural 2015 season left him with a “wow” impression. He explained that it attracted an average of 27 vendors per week, and the entire season from June to October brought in an estimated 40,000 residents and visitors — quadruple what his department expected.

In 2016, the farmers market will reduce its season by four weeks, eliminating October, since crowds and vendors diminished during that time, Langlois said. He also said the program hopes to feature craft wines this year and extend the overlapping summer Music in the Park series through August.

“The Dodge Park Farmers Market is no longer a secret,” he said. “A buzz was generated, and the momentum continues to grow.”

The City Center
City officials explained how the Sterling Heights City Center could soon become more integrated with Dodge Park. According to City Engineer Brent Bashaw, the city has finished renovating its west side parking lots and infrastructure, and it will soon work on completing City Center improvements on the east side. New pavement repairs are expected to have a 20-year design life, he said.

Bashaw explained that a police retaining wall has already been replaced, and the city has plans to add a secure Police Department parking area with a security gate.

In addition, the city has plans to install a small traffic circle in the City Center and create a plaza.

The Clinton River
Officials are also looking forward to getting work done along the Clinton River as a way to make it a destination spot for kayakers and other river enthusiasts. The improvements will be paid for by a $4.5 million grant that Sterling Heights and Utica secured in 2015.

Jason Castor, city development manager, said the project would focus on a nine-mile river section to improve natural habitats and rid the river of excess woody debris that can back up and cause logjams. He said construction is expected to start this spring.

“The Clinton River Restoration Project is providing an opportunity to set the groundwork for watershed improvements and placemaking opportunities along the Clinton River, some of which are already getting started,” Castor said.

The Clinton River area might also see some more art soon, according to a conceptual public art program that was introduced at the planning meeting.

Community Relations Director Bridget Doyle discussed the Art for Everyone initiative to install more public art in the city as a way to build “collective community expression.” She cited Detroit’s “Monument to Joe Louis,” also known as The Fist, and Chicago’s “Cloud Gate,” also known as The Bean, as examples of iconic public art.

Although the city already has a sculpture walk area near City Hall, officials plan to explore a new program idea that could seek funding and grants to then solicit artists to install new artwork.

Doyle said one idea would be a Clinton River sculpture walk with sculptures along the river’s trails, with the goal of it becoming an attraction for hikers, bikers and walkers using the state’s trail system.

The city’s tentative timeline for its public art plans includes discussions with the city’s Arts Commission this winter, getting community input in the summer and bringing a plan to City Council for final review this fall, Doyle said.

Celebrating an anniversary
Plans for a 50th anniversary celebration for Sterling Heights in 2018 are already starting to take shape. The formal organization process will kick off this September, Doyle explained.

She said the 50th anniversary year will begin with a Jan. 2, 2018, kickoff prior to a City Council meeting featuring refreshments and merchandise such as apparel, mugs and bumper stickers. Officials plan to launch a book about the city’s history that year.

Doyle said the festive year would launch a celebration July 1, 2018. Dodge Park could host music, guest speakers, kids activities, art and refreshments. The event would culminate with the burial of a time capsule, Doyle said.

Doyle said the anniversary would also be mentioned during other city events that year, such as for Halloween and Christmas.

“Each event in 2018 will feature a special presentation highlighting our anniversary with a theme or other element to recognize the semicentennial in some way,” she said.

Residents, officials respond
Although specific cost estimates were sparse during the meeting, city officials said that funding plans and cost estimates will be fine-tuned and then brought to the council as the projects develop.

After the presentations, residents and City Council members gave their impressions about the concepts and plans.

Resident Michael Lombardini said he has been a fan of public art for years, and he suggested that some art be installed across the street by the senior center. But he issued a caveat about placing art near the Clinton River.

“I would remind you that that has a very unique floodplain,” he said.

Sterling Heights resident Claudia Pfromm said she would love to see a new splash park or splash pad.

“If my grandkids come over and they say, ‘Grandma, what can we do?’ and I take them to the splash pad, I am going to be a hit,” she said.
City Council members mostly had favorable things to say about the planning session’s ideas and proposals.

Councilwoman Barbara Ziarko said the annual strategic planning meeting is her favorite meeting of the year. She said the city needs more space for parks and recreation programming, adding that some people get turned down for classes because there isn’t enough room. She described a recent yoga class that she attended.

“There were over 50 people in the room, and it was so tight that we looked like a homeless shelter,” she said. “And I’m not kidding, that’s how close everybody — it was that crowded.”

Mayor Pro Tem Joseph Romano said he likes ideas such as the Clinton River work, the splash park, the Dodge Park updates and the artwork.

But he said it’s important to consider what older residents want too: good public safety, low taxes and good streets.

Romano also said the city has been built out to its capacity, and he wants to know where all the money is coming from to pay for projects.

“(If) you want all these goodies, other than the ones that I mentioned, which are very economical, then you’re looking at a tax increase,” he said. “I don’t want to see another tax raise. I think we’ve had enough.”

Mayor Michael Taylor said that while the younger generation’s desires were mentioned during the meeting, he believes that quality-of-life projects can benefit everyone.

“As Mr. Romano touched on, this is going to be something that the entire community will probably have to weigh in on,” he added. “It’ll be a legacy for everyone, for the residents who live here now, who are moving in, and it will be for the entire community for 50 years.”

Find out more about Sterling Heights’ strategic planning presentations by visiting www.sterling-heights.net/strategicplanning or by calling (586) 446-2489.

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