Development, budget choices on the horizon in Shores for 2016

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published January 6, 2016


ST. CLAIR SHORES — While 2015 brought a new seawall to Blossom Heath Park and renovations at Blossom Heath Inn, a veritable building boom is expected for the city this year.

Mayor Kip Walby said construction will begin in 2016 on the new St. Mary’s nursing care and rehabilitation facility on the site of the old Chapoton Apartments, which were torn down in 2015.

“That was exciting; that was an eyesore for many years,” Walby said of the apartments’ demolition.

Also in 2016, St. Gertrude Catholic Church is expected to be torn down to make way for a senior living facility built by Cypress Partners. And even in the neighborhoods, Walby said, new houses are going up at record rates.

“Last count was 48 new homes being in some phase of construction,” he said. “It’s a building boom, and (when) the lots go up (for sale), people buy them and they build quickly. There’s a big desire for people to move to this community, (to) be in a waterfront community.”

The work isn’t done at Blossom Heath Park either, he said, stating that they want to continue working with the Tax Increment Finance Authority to develop plans to fill in part of the lagoon and perhaps erect a community center in the park. Plans will proceed this year, he said, at the Senior Activities Center, which won a federal loan to pay for renovations and additions.

“I think our goal, sometime in the fall, would be to put a shovel in the ground for the senior center,” Walby said.

Plans have been submitted for the former Linda’s Place restaurant and for a former market on Harper Avenue north of 11 Mile Road, which is slated to reopen as an Italian dry goods store.

“There’s always key places that we know that need to be redeveloped and face blight. Chapoton and Linda — these were places that were blighted areas, and they’re significant,” Walby said. “Harper Avenue, when you drive down, it looks very good.”

He said the building that houses the Kroger store at 13 Mile and Harper won’t be empty for long after Kroger moves west along 13 Mile Road to Roseville. The city is already working with the landlord to find a replacement tenant, he said.

The new year will also bring new budget challenges, however, according to City Manager Mike Smith.

Even though St. Clair Shores was able to add to its rainy day fund in 2015, that was only because of a one-time donation, and in 2016, city officials anticipate being faced with a negative budget.

Smith said the city also has to focus on the police and fire operating millage, which will need to go before voters in August in order to be collected in 2017.

Now state law says that municipalities cannot specify staffing levels like St. Clair Shores has in prior millage renewals, calling for a specific number of personnel at the Police and Fire departments. And although the state attorney general approved language that included staffing levels the last time the millage was up for renewal, there’s no guarantee that he will approve the language again.

And, Smith said, “Now that we have farmed out the animal control service, we would need to either hire a new type of personnel at the Police Department or change the language from 90 to 89 (staff members), and if we change the language it would definitely not be a renewal.”

That, he said, could be problematic for the 2 mills levied by the city to pay for police and fire operations.

State lawmakers also recently passed a bill that included a provision halting municipalities from sending educational pieces about elections to voters less than 60 days before an election.

“If I have an Aug. 4 election, the last piece I can send out is June 4, which basically renders it useless,” Smith said. “Hopefully they’ll reconsider it, but if I have to go out for any kind of millage next year, and I have to do it with my hands tied behind my back, it’s troubling.”

Walby said that city officials will have tough decisions to make come budget time.

“Our five-year forecast does not look good, and so we again have to evaluate not only this current budget, but how it looks in the next five years,” he said. “We’ve definitely got some decisions to make.”