As another year closes out, local leaders discuss what’s ahead in 2016

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published January 6, 2016


Got some plans for the new year? Maybe it’s a fresh workout regimen or a renovation project that you swear you’re finally going to tackle this year.

Well, the same thing goes for government leaders. They’ve got some big plans to wrap up loose ends from 2015 and get ready for whatever might come their way in the new year — and there’s always something.

The Eagle caught up with the heads of each municipality in our coverage area to see what they think will be pressing issues for their community in 2016. Here’s what they had to say:

City Manager Joe Valentine, Birmingham
Valentine isn’t working on Plan A or even Plan B. For him, 2016 is the year of Plan P.

“We want to work on parking, planning and public facilities,” said Valentine.

It’s no secret that downtown Birmingham is already tight on parking options, and that’s likely only going to get more serious down the line. More parking in the city’s downtown Central Business District is a must.

The Birmingham Advisory Parking Committee, after many months of analysis, came up with some ideas to improve parking in the city’s downtown, and the Ad Hoc Parking Development Committee has now been tasked with crunching the data and making a recommendation as to how those ideas could best be implemented.

“The structure at Pierce Street can accommodate two additional floors, for instance. The ad hoc committee will look at whether it’s a better idea to expand or replace structures,” he said.

While those plans come to fruition, the Birmingham City Commission will need to plan to take a closer look at its citywide master plan, which will be a guidepost to more localized master plans for corridors in the city, like the Rail District and the Triangle District.

“We’ve looked at our citywide master plan every time we update other master plans. But the last time we looked at the citywide plan was maybe the 1950s,” he said.

In addition to updating plans, the city manager is looking forward to some buildings around town getting an update too. Reconstructions of the Chesterfield Fire Station and the Baldwin Public Library’s adult services area are in the works.

A big part of the library project, he added, will be deciding how best to fund the effort. After a $21.5 million bond proposal to renovate the library failed in 2014, the city will need to carefully look at how to best cover the cost, which will likely be from a combination of sources, including the library trust.

“We’ll also look at which is the best option for building — do we do it a piece at a time or a comprehensive (renovation)?” he said.

City Manager Jay Cravens, Bloomfield Hills
Cravens is sure to have a busy 2016 with the to-do list he’s put together. Annual refresher training for the Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals is on the docket, along with new signage at city borders, an expansion of the citywide tree planting and replacement initiative, and labor contract bargaining with the city’s public safety officers and dispatchers, and Department of Public Works staff.

But it doesn’t end there. Cravens said the city will work with the Canadian National Railway to improve the structural condition and appearance of the Long Lake overpass bridge. Residents can also look forward to a new website unveiling this month, with increased access to city information. Bloomfield Hills is going to work to improve communication in 2016 in both directions, he said.

“I’m really excited about this opportunity. We will have a town meeting, probably in April or May, to get citizen input on issues or matters that concern them,” Cravens said. “If any of these matters need to be budgeted, we can do it as we adopt the 2017 budget in May.”

Speaking of communication, Cravens has no intention of letting DTE Energy off the hook after it failed to communicate with residents early last year during its controversial Ground to Sky program. The utility admitted that it went too far when it clear-cut trees on residential properties in the city and Bloomfield Hills, and Cravens said he wants to make sure DTE puts back the trees it needlessly took out.

“DTE came through last fall and kept its promise to plant new trees on Stonycroft Lane and portions of Kensington Road,” he said. “We want to make sure they continue with tree planting on Kensington Road, where they stopped due to weather. We are also working with DTE to improve their communication efforts with our residents on tree trimming and cutting projects.”

Supervisor Leo Savoie, Bloomfield Township
Demolition on the eyesore known as Bloomfield Park started at the end of 2015. Transforming that massive space that straddles the township and Pontiac is going to take three to five years, according to Savoie, but he’s looking forward to getting the ball rolling with a little more momentum.

“REDICO (developer) expects to spend $180 million, and it’s going to take a lot of time, but we’ve got to do that to ensure the completed project is a complement to our community,” said Savoie.

Since the bulk of the property sits in Pontiac, Savoie said Bloomfield Township didn’t lose much cash on the blighted space. Savoie’s major concern isn’t as much about getting Bloomfield Park back on the tax roll as it is about making sure the area — to be called Village of Bloomfield — will be something his residents are proud of.

“There’s nothing definitive yet, but there’s expected to be between 3,000 and 4,000 square feet of retail space, a theater, a full-service hotel with banquet facilities,” Savoie said. “They’re talking about a grocery store, an empty-nester single-family home component, millennial apartments that are completely tricked out, but not big on space — they said the millennials just want to throw their stuff in there and they’re off doing something else.”

Beyond that, there’s some pretty “mundane” stuff on the agenda, Savoie said, like replacing water lines in older neighborhoods and tackling some road projects. But when the Eagle caught up with Savoie, he had just learned that Treasurer Dan Devine’s whistleblower suit against him and the township had been dismissed — so he knows that in Bloomfield Township, nothing stays boring for very long.

“Based on everything going on, it should prove to be an interesting year,” he said.

Village Manager Chris Wilson, Beverly Hills
The bleeding has stopped, Wilson said.

Well, more like the erosion has stopped at Erity Dam, erosion that would have eventually destabilized the structure. But there’s more work to be done, the manager explained.

“We’re going to be coming up with a final repair for Erity Dam, making sure the bridge on Evergreen will be protected,” he said. “We’ll continue to work with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and surrounding homeowners to do that.”

But those aren’t the only repairs in store this year for the village. Last year, Beverly Hills got aggressive with roadwork — an effort that Wilson said is vital to keeping up the aging infrastructure. And despite the headaches it caused drivers over the summer, the work needs to continue in 2016.

“Residents have been very patient, especially during the county’s project on Lahser Road, which took longer than expected,” he said. “Road maintenance is a necessary evil that we have to do so they don’t get into less-than-desirable shape.”

As a highlight, Wilson is looking forward to adding a few more officers to the Beverly Hills Public Safety Department.

“We’re experiencing for the first time in many years the retiring of (several) public safety officers. And we’ve been able to find very, very good candidates to fill those positions,” he said.

Village Administrator Jim Creech, Franklin
When the Eagle spoke with Creech this time last year, he had his fingers crossed that the village would successfully secure a grant from the Michigan Heritage Restoration Program for the Broughton House Rehabilitation Project.

Already in 2016, we can check off one for the win column.

“We did get our grant funded through the state,” he happily reported on the project, which will fund the repair of the foundation and rehab issues on Village Hall’s first floor to the tune of around $200,000.

“Once that starts up in early March, we probably won’t even be able to hold meetings here. We might move them to (Franklin Community Church),” he said.

But other village amenities need some TLC too. Like neighboring Beverly Hills, Creech wants to get cracking on some road maintenance. He went so far as to say that the village could go to residents this year to fund that effort.

“As we did last year, we’ll be doing some street maintenance, mill and resurface patching in the village in 2016,” Creech added in an email. “Over the past couple of years, the total village tax millage has decreased from about 10 mills to 7 mills due to debt being paid off. There are (a) number of capital projects and programs that would require additional dedicated funding (in order) to be successful, including villagewide road resurfacing and infrastructure improvements, pedestrian and corridor improvements, drainage and tree programs, etc.”

If a bond proposal makes it onto the ballot this November, it’ll be joined by some proposals to update the village charter, Creech noted, to keep up with state laws that have changed over the years. Also in need of an update is the village’s record-keeping system, which is still almost entirely analog.

“We are looking in the near future to digitizing files and records, and we’ll be reviewing some operational alterations and technology upgrades to improve our service to the public,” Creech explained in the email.

Village Council President Jeffrey Modell, Bingham Farms
Bingham Farms isn’t in the red, but Modell said he’d like to start building back the financial cushion that the village enjoyed before the recession hit. With supports like an upturn in property values, he thinks that could be a possibility.

“We don’t have a whole lot of float,” he explained. “At our lowest point, we had maybe a million (dollars) sitting around. We tax fairly modestly based on our needs: We have a small government with two full-timers and one half-timer, and to top that off we have a volunteer Fire Department and we share police (with Franklin).”

Modell said the council is also going to take a closer look at constructing its 10-year plan for infrastructure.

“Council had a number of meetings about what we want to do and when,” he said. “We’ve got an engineer to plot out major road maintenance issues.”

He’s not looking forward to seeing what kind of repairs the water and sewer infrastructure of Detroit might need now that Oakland County is a member of the Great Lakes Water Authority and will share some of the costs of repairing the city’s system.

“I have no confidence in what (the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department) has done over the years. Now with GLWA, we’ll have a beginning to understanding where we’re at, and the subdivisions are going to have to do major contributions,” Modell said.