Resident input leads to new plan for Harper Woods

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published March 8, 2017

HARPER WOODS — The city of Harper Woods is preparing to roll out a new plan for its future, a plan that was created from resident input that was collected over the course of the last several months.

Called a “neighborhood improvement plan,” the new goals will shape the city in the coming years and match what residents said they want. 

A series of four meetings took place weekly from Oct. 12 through Nov. 1 with an average of 30 residents attending each meeting. The meetings endeavored to expand upon perceived strengths and challenges that Harper Woods faces and prioritize the city’s needs.

“We had two major community meetings,” said Tyrone Hinton, the initiative’s lead organizer and the economic and community development director for Harper Woods. “At the second, we had people give us two kinds of input: the three things they would like to see done in the community, and the three things they would like to see disappear. Our consultants looked at that and determined six community values. Those are beautiful neighborhoods, education, crime reduction and law enforcement, community cohesion, community activities, and functioning infrastructure and city services.”

The finalized plan will be presented to the Harper Woods City Council  at 7 p.m. March 9 in the Harper Woods 32A District Court, 19617 Harper Ave.

To improve on the topic of beautiful neighborhoods, the plan is designed to counter vacant and abandoned homes, unkempt properties, and blight and trash by developing home ownership programing, organizing community cleanups, providing better code enforcement, improving communication from the city regarding trash pickup requirements, and implementing harsher penalties for those who don’t comply with such regulations.

In terms of education, the plan states that the city should address the number of high school graduates who are not attending college or furthering their education, fight the perception that the public has low expectations for students, and ensure that the schools in the community are safe through measures such as providing additional mentoring programs, encouraging higher standards for students, increasing the school resource officer program, and conducting financial literacy and empowerment clinics for both students and adults within Harper Woods.

The issues that citizens believed were a threat to the community included home and vehicle break-ins, speeding on residential streets, noise violations and curfew violations. People also wanted to see the return of a neighborhood watch program and a stronger police presence, and a better relationship with law enforcement within the area.

Regarding concerns about there being a lack of community unity and  a lack of pride in homes or properties, the plan suggested better communication between the local government and residents, reforming the block-captain program, and more rigid enforcement of local codes and ordinances.

The plan designers concluded that people had the impression of there being few large, special events that make the city a destination spot, and there being a lack of exciting and well-publicized activities designed for different age groups and different interests. The planners want to, among other things, create a task force of Harper Woods residents dedicated to event planning; establish a community recreation center; and engage the school district for potential utilization and optimization of facilities for community activities, such as open gym, open swim and social/interest group meetings.

In regard to infrastructure, the planners noted the trend of Eastland Center tenants moving out or closing down, Kelly Road now being host to several vacant buildings, and chronic problems with residential basements and sewer and stormwater systems. The proposed solutions included better branding for a revitalization of Kelly Road and promoting Harper Woods as a cooperative partner for potential redevelopers at Eastland Mall.

“We are finalizing the format for the plan as we speak,” said Hinton. “After the City Council looks at it, it becomes an issue of finding out how to implement it and to see what kind of resources are available to make these desired changes.”

The city government is reacting to the findings. The next step involves finding the most feasible methods to accomplish these community goals.

“I think they did a very good job of identifying issues and areas of concern,” said Harper Woods City Manager Randolph Skotarczyk. “A lot of us in the government share these interests with them, and we don’t disagree with any of their points. Obviously, we need to be concerned with our fiscal restraint when implementing them, but we were very impressed by what they came up with.”

Skotarczyk said the city is ready to move forward to do everything it can to make a stronger community.

“One major issue we heard a lot about through this process was a lack of community involvement,” said Skotarczyk. “We’re hoping to increase volunteers and believe this plan is a great starting point for the future. We’re going to continue ensuring people are active throughout this process with goal-setting sessions on Monday, March 6, and Monday, March 20.”

The rest of the process will have a designated location in a building that the city purchased as a foreclosed property.

“We bought a building on Kelly Road to become our community resource center,” said Hinton. “It’s going to be the building where our volunteers can put this plan together and find out how to implement the plan, and then implementing it. It will also serve as a police substation so they can have another base out in the community, and to give them a stronger presence on Kelly.”