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Sterling Heights seeks eco sustainability in 2020

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published February 14, 2020

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STERLING HEIGHTS — A Jan. 28 Sterling Heights special strategic planning meeting created an environment to showcase ideas to make the city greener.

During the meeting, city officials talked about the “Creating a Sustainable Sterling Heights” report, which calls for natural resource management, including parks, well-maintained green spaces, water and trees.

The annual strategic planning meeting comes as the city is about 10 years away from its target year for completing its Visioning 2030 goals, which the council approved in 2014. Among those goals are priorities like placemaking, well-maintained green spaces and abundant nonmotorized paths.

City Manager Mark Vanderpool discussed city trends over the prior 20 years. Those included surviving the recession by heeding financial principles, followed by a season of growth and investment in infrastructure and amenities.

“As we look forward to the future, it is vitally important that we do all that we can and all that is possible to protect the investments made throughout the city,” he said. “We must also do all that is possible to be good stewards of the city’s green infrastructure.”

Other city officials spoke during the meeting. Parks and Recreation Director Kyle Langlois said Sterling Heights has about 1,000 acres of parks and green spaces. To preserve the natural quality of these areas, he supports the establishment of “no-mow zones” to create animal habitats and curb erosion.

Langlois outlined goals and progress with the city’s nonmotorized master plan, adding that one objective is to improve the environment and reduce wear and tear on roads by building a network of trails and bike lanes that interconnect five city parks. Currently, only Dodge and Farmstead parks are connected, he explained.

“The vision of the Parks and Recreation Department is to connect all five of our major parks with the nonmotorized network of trails,” he said. “This process could be completed with hike-bike trails, bike lanes, paved shoulders and other forms of transportation.  … A trail system like this would reduce the carbon footprint as people will have a safe and effective way to traverse to all areas of the city without having to use motor vehicles.”

A bike sharing program could augment the plan’s usefulness, he explained.

While Sterling Heights has little undeveloped land left, city officials hope to encourage existing developments to become denser with mixed uses, thus having zones with combined residential and retail, for instance.

Department of Public Works Director Michael Moore said the city wants to be greener by incentivizing and promoting recycling in the community.

He said recycling saves resources and prevents pollution by keeping trash from going into landfills. But he said the recycling industry has faced challenges, such as cross-contamination of materials, which can hinder the recycling process. He recommended outreach and education.

“We need to be able to adapt to the ever-changing recycling industry through our public education program,” he said. “We can inform residents of materials no longer accepted, like a specific grade of plastic.”

For years the city has talked about the need to increase its tree canopy. City Planner Chris McLeod listed benefits to planting more trees in the city, including reducing soil erosion, reducing energy consumption, and increasing quality of life and property values.

He outlined some recent tree planting projects. He said recently planted tree tallies include around 425 at Dodge Park, 109 for the Community Center, around 600 along Van Dyke Avenue, around 330 along Dodge Park Road, around 900 along M-59 and around 290 along the Delia Park nature trail.

“So the city has taken the initiative,” he said.

McLeod explained that the city has access to maps that show the locations of the city’s tree canopy, its densities and where new trees should go “in the right spot.” He encouraged more public education to promote the tree canopy as an asset, and to express that  “trees are not liabilities.”

He said the city could pursue policies preventing a  net loss of trees, and instead raise the tree canopy percentage from around 19% to 25%-30%.

“Trees are not an unnecessary cost, and trees are not an obstacle to development,” he said. “Trees need to be seen as an amenity or as a way to increase value.”

One of the city’s  nearest environmental goals is to create a Sterling Heights Sustainability Commission. As of now, the proposed commission would have five voting members from the community and two expert, nonvoting members who would be ex-officio.

City Attorney Marc Kaszubski said the sustainability commission would propose plans that could encompass energy efficiency, water conservation and carbon footprint reduction.

According to Kaszubski, the goal is to put together an ordinance creating the commission and then have the City Council adopt it. Then the city would recruit potential members from March to May. After that, the goal is to appoint members for the commission’s seats in June.

Then, the commission would work on a sustainability plan. The deadline to finish the plan is May 2021, and the council’s goal to adopt it is July 2021. Then would come the implementation, which would occur over the following 10 years.

After city officials spoke, the council had a chance to opine. Councilwoman Barbara Ziarko said she likes, among other things, the idea of increasing the tree canopy, and she hopes the city can obtain grants to accomplish this. She also likes the idea of the sustainability commission, though she believes that five members might not be enough.

“I could see that easily going to a seven-member commission,” she said.

Mayor Michael Taylor believes that five local members is enough, adding that two nonvoting ex-officio members will also offer guidance.

“I think we want a board that’s really lean, focused … and we want it to be made up of people that are not just passionate about this issue, but people who are knowledgeable about it,” he said.

Find out more about Sterling Heights’ strategic plan by visiting www.sterling-heights.net/strategicplan. See the 2030 Visioning plan at www.sterling-heights.net/2030visioning.

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