City officials: 2016 will be a year of planning in Rochester

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published February 2, 2016

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ROCHESTER — With many major city projects complete, including the two new parking decks downtown and the Main Street Makeover, Rochester residents and visitors will be happy to hear that 2016 will be a year devoted to planning, according to city officials.

“We’ve really just completed some major projects, so I want to pat the city on the back for completing the Main Street Makeover. They just did the meter program, and the parking decks as well. Those have been the big ones that the city has just recently accomplished,” City Manager Blaine Wing said.

Deputy City Manager Nik Banda said everybody in town has construction fatigue and will be glad to hear that he describes 2016 as “a year of planning.”

“It’s not just us — Rochester Hills, Oakland Township, it was everywhere — and people got tired of it. The businesses have had enough. The decks disrupted the downtown all summer, then it was Main Street, then it was North Main Street, then it was Hamlin and so on. We are done. Our little area around here is done ... so we are good to go. We are not going to disrupt downtown at all.”

With the economy on the uptick, Wing said he is excited to jump in and build on the solid foundation that was already established.

“I would like to move us from good to great. I feel that there are a lot of good opportunities, just from the different projects that I am seeing, that are coming into our Planning Commission, and getting to meet different individuals, from business owners to residents, just seeing the excitement of the new year. It’s moving us that next step up in a positive direction,” he said.

Wing and Banda agree that 2016 is really going to be about planning, rezoning and making sure the ordinances are appropriate and encourage development.

“I think you are going to see a lot of brainpower going into planning for the next couple of years cycle. We have some money coming in, from new taxes from the residential development, and we are going to use it appropriately,” Banda said.

Kicking off 2016, city administrators and the City Council have begun working on goals and objectives, as well as the city’s new strategic plan.

“During the months of February and March, we are going to really be working on those — through a couple of different workshops and meetings — so I’ll have a better idea of some of the big projects and direction (for 2016),” Wing said.

Over the next year, Wing said the city will work hard to implement the master plan that previous councils have approved.

“I see us really implementing different portions of the master plan — from zoning to residential, to various street repairs ... which I know is not the sexy stuff, but that will allow the short-term as well as the long-term impacts for the community,” he said.

A big part of that, Banda added, is updating the city’s zoning ordinance.

“The master plan implementation is very important now, whether that be rezoning land or something else, so we are really looking hard at all the details,” he said.

Banda explained that many of the large commercial properties left in the city would classify as locations for possible brownfield redevelopment — reuse of land that may be complicated by the presence, or potential presence, of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant.

“All the properties that we have, we expect developers are going to come in and they are going to need some kind of financial incentive to make these properties developable. … When you have to clean up the property — the soils are unstable, whether there is bad stuff in the ground, whether it is a swamp, whatever — there are extra costs, so we expect fully in this year, or the next year, that developers that want to develop some of our more challenged sites are going to come in and seek brownfield opportunities,” he said.

Banda also expects the city to see continued residential and private-sector investment over the next year and believes the City Council and the Planning Commission will discuss appropriate infill growth for the city in the coming months.

As always, 2016 will also allow the city to handle what Wing called “nuts and bolts” projects including updating the city’s sewer system, as well as road, sidewalk and some street repair — with assistance from a new software program in the Department of Public Works.

“Now, we will be able to really use that data that we are gathering … and (look at certain projects) and have an estimate … on how much that would cost. So then we could actually go throughout the community and they could get us on a cycle for maintenance, as well as repair and replacement of streets and roads,” he said. “Using that same software for our sewers — from our drinking water to the sanitary sewers — we can basically go through, with the technology, and look at the integrity of the pipe. That will help us find any leaks that are coming from the pipes and any infiltration coming in.

“By looking and noting where all of our pipe is and putting it into a graphical map, that is going to allow us to make better decisions,” he continued. “I know it might not be the sexy stuff — it’s the nuts and bolts of looking at the streets and roads — but … it’s going to be important for us to have that information, and to share it with our elected officials, to make decisions about how we need to spend our resources — being both people and money — on maintaining and improving the various structures.”

As far as construction goes, Banda said the city will complete the entrances of the parking structures with two little pocket parks this spring. This summer, he said the city will begin the third phase of the Paint Creek restoration project — which will improve the creek from the Paint Creek Bridge to the library.

“We already know that we have $400,000 in grants already in our hand, and we have an application pending that we should hear about in the next few months for double that. If we get that, we can roll it in with that and finish it all the way to the mouth of the Clinton (River), basically,” Banda explained.

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