Ferndale mayor talks Woodward, housing and more in State of the City address

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published June 22, 2022

 Mayor Melanie Piana delivers her State of the City address at 215 West in downtown  Ferndale June 14.

Mayor Melanie Piana delivers her State of the City address at 215 West in downtown Ferndale June 14.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

 An audience of Ferndale residents, city staff and business owners listen as Piana gives her State of the City address.

An audience of Ferndale residents, city staff and business owners listen as Piana gives her State of the City address.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

FERNDALE — Woodward Avenue, housing and the downtown were just some of the topics addressed in Mayor Melanie Piana’s State of the City addresss June 14.

Piana delivered her speech to a crowd at the 215 West event space, covering a range of topics from improvements on Livernois, Woodward Heights, Hilton and at Schiffer Park to climate resiliency, carbon reduction and sustainable mobility. Piana also discussed city issues in parks and recreation, public works, police and fire, the Facilities Task Force and overall aspirations.

Woodward Avenue has been a major topic in Ferndale with its long-discussed road diet that would reduce the number of traffic lanes from four to three, and add bike lanes and other safety features.

Piana said the project will make it safer for pedestrians to cross Woodward, calm traffic so vehicles drive the 35 mph speed limit, and give people who travel on bikes or roller skates their own travel lane. According to the mayor, the Michigan Department of Transportation is moving through the final design process and construction could start as soon as September, though the majority of the work is expected to take place next year.

Piana stated the city needs to focus on educating the public and businesses on what’s to come when construction for the project begins.

“We have to educate our residents, businesses and visitors about how the new road design will work,” she said. “Business owners and residents are the best advocates of our downtown and after the orange barrels go away, there will be a four-to-six-month adjustment and relearning period. We have learned this on every street we have changed, and I anticipate MDOT and the city will field many complaints and we’ll need to make adjustments. But we’re prepared because, as I said, we’d have done this before on all of our other streets like Woodward Heights, Livernois and Pinecrest.”

Piana also discussed housing in Ferndale. She said that residents named the need for lower-cost housing as the top development priority in the city’s master plan update. Piana stated that the city’s plan is to implement a multi-prong approach to address housing, which includes allowing and encouraging a wide range of housing types and densities, retrofitting the existing housing stock for sustainability and accessibility, and building more houses.

According to the mayor, 80% of Ferndale’s households have one or two people, and 8% of Ferndale’s households have four or more people.

“We also have people living longer and staying healthier,” she said. “Seniors are staying in their homes longer and the housing stock isn’t turning over as fast as it has in prior decades. So this limits the amount of housing available for younger generations looking for their first home.”

Since 2016, Ferndale has 796 units that have been completed, under construction, have been approved but not yet broken ground, or have been proposed. Of the new homes added, 38% have been or will be built in the downtown, with the other 62% located in the neighborhoods.

“What remains to be seen now is how the higher interest rates will cool the housing market,” Piana said. “Even though we’re in the cooldown period, I know mortgages and rents remain high.”

Speaking of the downtown, Piana declared that it is strong again after a tough period during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, the city lost seven businesses and 12 new ones established themselves in Ferndale, she said.

“We also welcome four new businesses to ‘The dot’ building, including Ascension Health, Quix Chocolate … and My Salon Suite,” she said. “The framework has been installed with the businesses and they plan to open late summer and early fall.”

City officials later told the Woodward Talk that the fourth business is in late-stage discussions with the developer, but nothing was official as of June 20.

In addition to city staff and volunteers, the audience was filled with local business owners and stakeholders. One such person was Jerome Raska, the owner of Blumz by JRDesigns.

Raska, who has operated his business for 18 years and has been in Ferndale for 35, has seen the ups and downs of the city, and where it’s headed now is “exciting,” he said.

“Even in our lower days, we were still leading the pack compared to a lot of neighboring communities,” he said. “We just continue to raise the bar as other communities have raised the bar. We just continue to be moving forward, and it’s exciting. It increases all our values, it brings more people to the community, as (Piana) stated. People want to live in Ferndale, which for the type of business I run, I need residents. That’s what keeps our business successful. And so that’s important to me, and a diverse selection of residents is what’s best for us.”

The entire State of the City address can be found on the city’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Ferndale.Michigan.