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City promises foliage screening, safety near planned trail

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published July 5, 2019


STERLING HEIGHTS — Sterling Heights city officials will proceed with a plan to build a trail along the Plumbrook Drain, though they will continue to communicate with residents and try to address privacy and safety concerns, officials said.

During the July 2 Sterling Heights City Council meeting, City Manager Mark Vanderpool said about 50 people had attended a June 25 informational meeting with residents about the trail at the Velocity collaboration center in Sterling Heights.

The issue at hand was a hike and bike trail that will be installed on city-owned property to connect Delia Park and the Beaumont Hospital, Troy, area. Part of the trail goes near the Plumbrook Nature Preserve, but not into it, city officials said.

City officials listed the hike and bike trail among the projects that residents would see after the successful passage of the November 2016 Recreating Recreation millage plan, which funds park improvements and amenities.

However, at the June 18 City Council meeting, a group of residents from the neighborhoods near the proposed trail complained about the project. They predicted that a new trail could increase crime, diminish privacy and decrease home values. At that meeting, officials agreed to temporarily pause construction in order to research the matter further and meet with residents.

While giving his summary of the June informational meeting, Vanderpool mentioned how Sterling Heights Police Chief Dale Dwojakowski tried to reassure residents who feared that crime might increase with a trail.

Vanderpool said police have concluded that the crime rate is “no higher (or) lower than any other area of the city” within the city’s 31 parks and green spaces. He added that police will patrol the trail with bikes or four-wheeled “quads.”

“We have 20-plus police officers that are certified and participate in our bike patrol,” he said. “And they are out in Dodge Park all the time and periodically on our other trail systems throughout the city, and certainly would be on this trail as needed or through some of their random safety patrols.”

Vanderpool said Sterling Heights has around 15 miles of trails in the city, and the upcoming hike and bike trail will be 10 feet wide and as close to the Plumbrook Drain as possible.

Although Vanderpool said the trail often crosses through wooded areas and is generally “well beyond private property,” he said a handful of homes in the area of Chinaberry Court and Pond View Drive could be visible to trail users under current conditions.

To ease concerns over privacy issues, the city manager said the city will do all it can do to plant trees where necessary to provide screening between the homes and the trail.

He also said the city will do its best to minimize disruption to animal habitats, though he added that wildlife still dwell in Dodge Park despite its busyness.

“Deer are plentiful. You can see them out there regularly, and that’s with a very extensive trail system,” he said.

After Vanderpool’s presentation, some residents stated or repeated their objections to the trail plan, while others spoke in favor of it.

Resident Aleksandra Urban was one of the trail critics at the June 18 meeting. On July 2, she thanked city officials for making arrangements to speak with people about the issue. But she still discussed her concerns.

“The residents who are opposed to this had a reasonable expectation of privacy, in that their property was adjoining a wetland, which they didn’t expect was going to have any type of buildings on it or any type of through-way. ” she said. “They expected it to remain natural.”

After the residents spoke, some City Council members said they have since toured the area where the trail will be placed.

Councilwoman Maria Schmidt said the tour was helpful, and she also thanked the residents and city officials for attending the June 25 informational meeting.

“At the end of the evening, I think more people than I thought walked away satisfied with what they were seeing, the changes that were made,” she said.

Councilman Michael Radtke repeated that he believes the trail is a “net good” for the city. He said he walked the path too and found around five homes that he had concerns about, but he said city officials have been working with the property owners to allay their concerns. He noted that the trail will be on city land, and he believes that the amenity will increase property values.

Radtke said he supports trusting the majority of residents who make a vote, such as the one in favor of the Recreating Recreation plan in 2016.

“For me, I have to go with the will of the people,” he said.

Councilwoman Barbara Ziarko said she has received phone calls that supported the trail, though she said the supporters were afraid to come forward because of the public opposition to the plan. Ziarko also agreed that the public settled the issue with the Recreating Recreation vote, even though the victory was narrow.

“It was part of what people voted on,” she said. “I can’t override what other people voted for, and it doesn’t matter what the margin is.”

The City Council didn’t propose any motion to reverse its decision to build the trail July 2. City Attorney Marc Kaszubski previously said the city could have faced legal consequences had it abandoned the trail’s construction contract.

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