Commission considers sidewalks in industrial area

Weighs benefits of complete-streets philosophy versus safety concerns

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published May 4, 2016

 Some industrial property and business owners in the city’s northwest quadrant feel that the presence of semis and other commercial trucks make sidewalks in the area a dangerous proposal.

Some industrial property and business owners in the city’s northwest quadrant feel that the presence of semis and other commercial trucks make sidewalks in the area a dangerous proposal.

Photo by Victoria Mitchell

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ROYAL OAK — After a hearty discussion and input from property owners in the city’s industrial district, the majority of commissioners voted April 25 to table the final approval of exemptions included in the 2016 Sidewalk Improvement Program.

City officials said they would bring back the subject during the May 23 regular meeting, when a decision would be expected on what additional properties, if any, should be exempt from what was suggested by the City Engineering Department for the 2016 program.

Property and businesses owners in the city’s northwest quadrant filled the City Commission chambers to passionately discuss why they should be exempt.

Multiple speakers said it would be unsafe to effectively encourage people to walk in an area that semi-trailers and other large vehicles with low pedestrian visibility frequent.

“We don’t understand why you want to bring foot traffic to a dangerous area already,” said David Suratt, vice president of Mayo Welding & Fabricating. He added that the limited sidewalks that do exist near his Delemere Avenue business are never used.

After listening to the public and excluding some properties in Oak Industrial Park, the commission’s discussion turned into a back-and-forth over the city’s complete-streets philosophy.

City Commissioner Kyle DuBuc said it is a priority of the current commission to promote a complete-streets philosophy.

“This commission is very committed to having a walkable, accessible, safe, pedestrian-friendly community,” he said.

DuBuc said the default position is always for sidewalks to go in. The commission then reviews the annual list — compiled by the city’s Engineering Department — for exemptions and approvals.

City Engineer Matthew Callahan said his department identified 48 locations where sidewalks do not exist and therefore would be required according to the commission’s priority.

“We kind of grouped them into areas,” he said. “The target area is between 13 Mile Road and Meijer Drive and on the east, Crooks; and it kind of jogs through the neighborhood, down the middle of Delemere, so on the west side of Delemere is included in this, and all the way over to Greenfield Road.”

Callahan said a list of properties where it would not be feasible to install sidewalks in that area also was created.

“At this point I look at the practical side of putting sidewalks in where we have semi-trucks and industrial traffic and busyness that really isn’t conducive to walking in an industrial park,” said Mayor Jim Ellison. “So I think the arguments about not putting those sidewalks in there are valid.”

Ellison said he also had great concern with forcing some businesses — and as some said, to a great deal of expense in a tight economy — to put in a sidewalk to serve what purpose.

“Again, I’m really having doubts, and again I want to reiterate … I’m still firmly committed to complete streets where it makes sense to do it, and I’m not sure this makes sense.”

City Commissioner Sharlan Douglas said she doesn’t support deviating from the complete-streets philosophy, nor does she support the thought that sidewalks would be dangerous.

“We heard comments from people talking about the risks of semis and conflicting with pedestrians, but to me, forcing any possible pedestrians to walk in the street because there are no sidewalks puts them at even greater risk from vehicles,” she said. “That’s why these areas need sidewalks.

“I also think that in addition to our commitment to complete streets in this city, people walk for fitness. I’m suspecting that there are employees there that are walking with their Fitbits, getting their mileage up, getting their steps up, and this is a very pleasant place to walk with all of that greenery.”

Installing sidewalks would also make a complete pathway to Meijer.

City Commissioner Jeremy Mahrle — who lives near and occasionally runs in the discussed area — said sidewalks are needed and would be utilized. Mahrle also said the area will look dramatically different once Normandy Oaks Park and the adjacent townhouse development is complete, adding he already sees pedestrians forced into the street.

Douglas and Mahrle voted against tabling the matter.

Along with being in an industrial park, other arguments property owners made against sidewalks included the high cost of installation passed on to them, insufficient notice and an agreement that they thought was in perpetuity from 2004 that sidewalks would not be required in the industrial area.

Ellison said his memory was just jogged recently regarding that agreement, so he felt more time should be given to the subject.

“I was around back in 2004 when we did go through this before, where (we) … came to the conclusion after talking to the business owners there that these sidewalks should not have been done,” he said. “And I had forgotten that when we did our tour through (the area) the other day, and I think there’s a lot of valid reasons why it wasn’t done.”

City officials said that before their next meeting, they hoped to tour the area again, meet with business owners in the area and take another look at prior property agreements.

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