Leaders hope to leave 2020 behind in healthier, more stable year

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published January 25, 2021

 There are dozens of office buildings on Telegraph Road in Bingham Farms, and many have lost tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are dozens of office buildings on Telegraph Road in Bingham Farms, and many have lost tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki


OAKLAND COUNTY — On Jan. 1, the world celebrated the start of a new year.

But let’s get real: We were really toasting the end and good riddance of 2020, a year filled with illnesses, upheaval and general misery.

Alas, we get a chance to start over and keep working toward something better. That’s just what leaders around the Eagle’s coverage area plan to do with the next 11 months.

And for most, that work has already begun.

We asked city managers, mayors and trustees what they’ve got planned for 2021 and what they foresee being big issues for their community. The standout resolution most leaders vowed to achieve is to shake off this pandemic and get back to life as we knew it.

Or something like it.

Birmingham Mayor
Pierre Boutros

Boutros is serving an unusual second consecutive term as mayor during these unusual times. Despite the debilitating COVID-19 pandemic, he said 2020 included the completion of some major goals, like replacing some of the city’s oldest infrastructure during the Maple Road reconstruction project downtown last summer.

“We are also continuing with the Lead Water Line Replacement Program and Backyard Sewer Lining Program, along with preparing to issue parks and recreation bonds for the initial round of improvements identified in our parks plan,” Boutros said in an email. “Additionally, we will move forward with improvements to our parking system and begin discussions on the final phase of contemplated improvements to the Baldwin Library.”  

He added that some of the strategies implemented by the City Commission to ease the burden of pandemic financial loses will continue into the new year, like waiving billing fees and charges to residents and businesses, providing free parking in downtown structures, and transferring many necessary permits, once only available in hard copy, to an online format.

Birmingham City Manager
Tom Markus

The Eagle wasn’t able to catch up with Markus, who’s been on the job since the beginning of the month after replacing outgoing City Manager Joe Valentine.

But really, after 20-some years at the helm of the city during a previous stint as manager, he’s ready to jump right into the business of Birmingham.

Communications Director Marianne Gamboa shared some of Markus’ goals on his behalf, leading off with the administration of the newly passed parks and recreation bond and the creation of an updated citywide master plan.

“For the bond, every park project will be reviewed by the Parks and Recreation Board and requires approval by the City Commission before moving forward,” Gamboa said in an email. “Residents and neighborhood groups will be invited to share their feedback at meetings throughout the process.”

Some of the earlier projects on the schedule — though that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be happening in 2021 — include renovations at the Birmingham Ice Arena, the development of Adams Park and an overhaul of Booth Park with a corner feature, trail improvements and pickleball courts.

The process to update the city’s Master Plan through 2040 is already underway, and residents are still being invited to share their input on what’s been done so far ahead of a second draft of the plan.

Even though COVID-19 has made it unsafe for residents to attend Planning Board meetings in person to share insights on the plan, Gamboa said the city’s made sure there are plenty of other ways people can have their say, by interacting virtually with the board during virtual meetings and creating a one-stop-shop for all things master plan — from documents to opinion forms — at the dedicated site, thebirminghamplan.com. The plan is projected to be completed later this year.

Bloomfield Hills Mayor
Sarah McClure

For McClure, priority one in 2021 will be keep residents safe and city services on track.

“Our City Manager David Hendrickson, other staff, public safety department and City Commissions have done a great job in maintaining the services our residents expect, and I want to thank them all for what they have been doing in this challenging time dealing with COVID,” she said in a prepared statement

Bloomfield Hills City Manager
David Hendrickson

Echoing McClure, Hendrickson said city services are top of mind in the coming year, which includes updates to bloomfieldhillsmi.net and other technology and electronic resources. Those proved to have been especially important during this time of social distancing.  

Infrastructure, as always, is high on the to-do list for the Hills.

“The city continues on the established course of improving and maintaining the city roads and infrastructure through our road program, by finding innovative ways to manage our road rehabilitation budget without borrowing funds to accomplish this,” Hendrickson said in an email.

Speaking of funds, Hendrickson said the city’s AAA bond rating is still holding steady, and administrators “routinely evaluate” employee pensions and costs for other post-employment benefits to keep the coffers in check.

Beverly Hills Village Manager Chris Wilson
Spirits are high in Wilson’s office, where he said he’s looking forward to making COVID-19 restraints a thing of the past so the village can get back to the institutions and community events residents love.

“We will look forward to, hopefully, hosting the Memorial Day Parade and Carnival, and the Halloween Hoot again,” Wilson said. “The village will analyze our infrastructure systems, especially our sidewalk network, and work to better link the business community, our residents and our recreation assets.”

Beverly Hills Village Council President John George did not respond to emailed requests for comment before press time.

Village of Franklin Council President
William Lamott

Infrastructure projects in the village are so much more than finding funds. Residents are often at odds over whether improvements to facades, sidewalks and landscaping are good for residents and visitors or destructive to Franklin’s famed historical authenticity.

Case in point: Lamott said he personally is concerned that the recent landscaping project at the Village Center has added too much white concrete to keep with the “rural, historic character.”

“Municipal water and sidewalks will be on the 2021 Franklin agenda,” he said. “Both issues are emotionally charged and expensive. I want to make fact-based decisions about each. A water survey will soon be mailed to residents, and responses will help us do the right thing.”

Lamott also anticipates that a proposal for sidewalk improvements will be on the May ballot.

Village of Bingham Farms Manager
Ken Marten

Marten’s 2021 wish list goes beyond his village’s borders. He said he hopes everyone in Bingham Farms and beyond gets their COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they’re able.

“I participated in a vaccine rollout webinar, and one of the panelists said, ‘If you want 2021 to be just like 2020, then don’t get the vaccine,’” he said.

A 2020 redux is a major concern for Marten, since he said the village’s business community was hit especially hard by state shutdowns.

“The necessary adaptations that companies have utilized due to the pandemic, like working from home and teleconference meetings galore, have forced a rethink about office space,” he said. “We have 24 office buildings in the Telegraph corridor. One property manager told me that, in January 2020, his building was at 91% occupancy. A year later, it’s at 71%.”

Companies have found that, with technology, they no longer need the space they thought they did.

The consolidation or closing of office space goes beyond private companies, too. Marten said the village might need to revisit its own footprint.

“(We) may be facing our own rethink of what to do with several vacant office buildings and their parking lots,” he explained. “That could pose a challenge to the village’s budget.”

Bloomfield Township Board Trustees
The Eagle reached out to all of the members of the township board, including newly elected Supervisor Dani Walsh. A few returned brief hopes for the coming year, and the others didn’t respond by press time.

“(My resolution for the township is to) maintain and enhance services to residents, and return civility to board meetings and interactions with residents,” Trustee Neal Barnett said in an email.

Trustee Stephanie Fakih, elected to the board in November, said she hopes to bring back events like the Bloomfield Township Open House.

“Events like these help foster long-standing relationships and a greater sense of community. My hope is to reinstate and create events that allow Bloomfield Township residents to meet one another, while also engaging with the township,” Fakih said in an email.

Trustee Val Murray is keeping her eye on the business of the township.

“I appreciate this opportunity to serve the community,” Murray said in an email. “What I hope to help accomplish is greater transparency and resident-friendly government.”