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 Sterling Heights resident Mary Minjeur stands outside of her backyard in the vicinity of the Sterling Relief Drain. She is opposed to a proposal that seeks to build a bike path in that area.

Sterling Heights resident Mary Minjeur stands outside of her backyard in the vicinity of the Sterling Relief Drain. She is opposed to a proposal that seeks to build a bike path in that area.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Council sifts through drain development debate

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published April 25, 2018


The idea to potentially redevelop a county-owned drain corridor into linear park space with a bike trail was again discussed at an April 17 Sterling Heights City Council meeting, even as some city officials complained about unclear information over the proposal’s status or fate.

At a Feb. 6 Sterling Heights City Council meeting, Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller and Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development Director John Paul Rea gave a presentation on their plans to improve the Sterling Relief Drain area, which included making it into linear park space with a nonmotorized bike trail. 

The land in question is a predominantly horizontal strip several miles long between 15 Mile Road and Metropolitan Parkway that is owned by the county and is home to wildlife.

Miller and Rea said the county would seek grant funding to cover the project if it ever came to fruition, and the cost is expected to be $6 million to $8 million.

Sterling Heights residents opposing the redevelopment plan have recently attended City Council and Macomb County meetings to speak out. Some residents also said they met with Miller to discuss the issue.

These activists say that a proposed path along the Sterling Relief Drain corridor would disturb the environment, jeopardize privacy, pose safety risks, create more maintenance expenses and lower property values. Supporters say park and trail space could increase recreational opportunities and boost property values. 

Although the topic was not formally on the agenda, several residents spoke about the drain proposal during public comment at the April 17 City Council meeting.

Resident George Parker said he has lived along the Sterling Relief Drain for 24 years, and he said he is opposed to a linear park or bike trail in that area, adding that “a bike trail should not be called a park.”

“With the bike trail behind their home that is open to the public, I think it would be normal for any homeowner to have concerns about privacy and security,” he said.

Resident Sanaa Elias, another opponent of a drain park and trail, said she hopes the council takes residents’ concerns seriously. She said the opposing side has collected “over 300 to 400 signatures.”

“I’ve not seen a council represent the people unless we come back with a referendum,” she said, adding later that “as a council, your whole purpose is to represent the people and to put their objections, their concerns, over yours.”

Resident Geoff Gariepy, a member of the Sterling Heights Planning Commission, said he lives within a half-mile of the drain and favors putting a linear park on the site.

“I have seen a lot of proposals come before me in terms of ways to use land in the city, and … you develop a sense for what’s a good idea and what’s a bad idea. I think that this idea is a slam dunk, honestly,” he said. “In the last 36 hours, I’ve gotten as many petition signatures in favor of this as these folks have gotten in weeks. ... You’re only hearing one side of the story from the people who have come tonight. There are two sides to this story.”

After public comment, the City Council took no formal action on the proposal. Councilman Michael Radtke said he favors more recreation options and an investment into the site that could improve property values, while adding that not all of his concerns have been alleviated. 

Mayor Pro Tem Liz Sierawski, Councilwoman Deanna Koski, Councilwoman Maria Schmidt and Councilwoman Barbara Ziarko aired objections or concerns over putting parklike amenities on the drain site.

Schmidt asked City Manager Mark Vanderpool for clarification on Miller’s current stance on the drain proposal. Vanderpool said he talked to Miller, and she wants to focus on the drain improvements themselves and that any park-related improvement ideas would be handled by the county itself or the county’s Planning and Economic Development Department.

“And whether or not the county proceeds with that is completely unknown at this point in time,” Vanderpool said. “What the county has said to me … is that the park improvements itself is something that they might consider in the future if grant funding became available, but it was not something that they were going to actively pursue at this time. I emphasize ‘at this time.’”

Schmidt said Miller “is passing the buck to us” on the topic, but added that the drain is not city property and Sterling Heights is not applying for any grants.

“We don’t even have a dog in the show,” Schmidt said. “It’s not our property. So it is their property, and why she keeps telling you that we are pursuing it and we are voting on it — it’s their property.”

Ziarko added that the issue is dividing the city and she is “tired of this being a hot potato issue.” She said the city could adopt a resolution about the drain in the future, but a resolution is a letter of good intent and not a legally binding agreement.

Councilman Nate Shannon criticized the county for not giving clear and concrete communication about the proposal, and he commented on “all this misinformation” over the proposal’s status. 

“I was under the impression that this project had been scrapped, that they were no longer pursuing this linear park. So apparently, that’s not the case, because residents are getting different information from the county than what I’ve seen,” he said.

Mayor Michael Taylor said he called Miller, who confirmed that she met with residents who said they’d be negatively affected by the drain park plan. Her message was that she ran for office to improve infrastructure, not to come up with new amenities, Taylor said.

“She’s not passing the buck or trying to do this hot potato,” Taylor said. “It was more, we have the land. If there’s a proposal that’s put together by the county ... themselves or in conjunction with the city, I’m all ears, but my job is focusing on this drain and getting this drain fixed.”

Taylor said amenity proposals would likely be handled by Rea. The mayor said he would support a plan that improves the drain’s functionality, adding that the drain’s water level can get very high after a big rainfall. He also said that he likes parks and trails, but that whatever happens down the line, it’s not going to happen in a week.

“It’s going to take years for this to play out,” he said. “Just keep the dialogue open, and let’s see if we can reach a resolution that everybody is in favor of and everybody could support, or at least a lot of people could support.”

In a statement emailed before press time by Macomb County Public Works Office spokesman Dan Heaton, Miller said “the proposal was dropped” when asked about her stance on the drain trail and park idea. 

“This was a proposal that was brought before the Sterling Heights City Council,” the statement says. “When it became clear that Council and residents had some concerns at this time, the proposal was dropped. My primary focus is on operating the drains and working toward clean water for our residents.” 

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