Developer makes street changes to Downs site plan
Posted on 05/26/2022
The site plan presented at the May 17 meeting shows a new stub road close to 7 MileAt its May 17 meeting, the Planning Commission resumed discussion of roads, pathways, connections and parking as part of the preliminary site plan review of the Downs redevelopment plan. Commissioners will take public comment on this topic at their next meeting on June 7 and then begin discussing architecture, landscaping and aesthetics. The topic of architecture and compatibility was recently addressed at the Historic District Commission meeting on May 18 for the row houses along Cady and a portion of Griswold.

City Planner Sally Elmiger, of Carlisle Wortman Associates (CWA), presented an overview of recent changes to the site plan provided by Hunter Pasteur Northville (HPN), and described how these changes address commissioner comments, or comply with the Master Plan and Zoning Ordinance. The new plan reduced the right-of-way width for new streets in the development to 50 ft. (vs. standard 60 ft.), with narrower vehicle travel lanes, 4 ft. sidewalks, and narrower green space between the curb and sidewalk. Elmiger said narrower travel lanes help slow traffic for a more pedestrian-friendly environment. However, she advocated for 60-ft. right-of-ways to provide enough room for underground utilities on the side of the street. She said a wider right-of-way could still allow for narrow vehicle lanes, 5-ft. sidewalks and enough space for large street trees.

The new plan increases the building setback along S. Center St. to 20 ft. to address concerns about a “canyon effect” created by the new buildings. This change coordinates with reducing the height of buildings along S. Center St. to 2-1/2 story units north of Beal and 1-1/2- to 2-story units south of Beal. Three pocket parks were added along S. Center St. proposed at about 3,000 sf. each, as noted in CWA’s report.

The report also noted the bridge toward Johnson Ave. is shown as a pedestrian bridge. Hutton now extends south of Beal, connecting with the southern-most east/west road, and the extension of Griswold St. now stubs at Johnson Drain to provide the possibility of a future connection to 7-Mile. Previous private roads in the development have been changed to public while interior driveways and alleys will remain private. The new plan also shows a pedestrian trail along the entire southern edge of the project, leading from River Park to the 7 Mile and S. Center St. intersection.

HPN’s Seth Herkowitz detailed the parking provided within the development with 1,503 total parking spaces, 312 of those being public parking. Both the apartments and condos would have their own interior garage (not seen from the street) and surface parking totaling 290 for the apartments (average 1.63 spaces) and 105 for the condos (average 2.5 spaces per unit). Those numbers differ from the site plan presented to the city. For single-family homes, parking spaces are four per household – with a two-car garage and two on the driveway. View the site plan here.

Herkowitz asked the Planning Commission for direction on the 18-space parking lot on Cady St. across from the church. He pointed out its multiple uses: preschool drop-off and pick-up at the church; visitor parking for Central Park; and a staging area for park events.

He also presented a revised site plan that showed a squared-off road design at the south end, the addition of a stub road for possible future connection to 7 Mile, rearranged buildings that further reduced the number of residential units, and other changes. See the presentation here.

There was consensus among commissioners around the width of traffic lanes on new public roads: 10 ft. and a request for 5 ft. sidewalks rather than the proposed 4 ft. span. Cady St. maintains its 60 ft. right-of-way. One of the commissioners commented on the large size of SUVs, noting that two traveling in opposite directions couldn’t pass on a smaller street. However, commissioners agreed on allowing the smallest lanes possible in the residential section to calm traffic and make streets safer. The city engineer will assist in recommending appropriate designs.

The switch to mountable curbs in the plan brought up pros and cons. City Manager Pat Sullivan requested the topic be reviewed by engineers to ensure water overflow goes into the street and down the storm drains.

Fleis and Vandenbrink Traffic Engineer Julie Kroll, a consultant to HPN, detailed the traffic patterns that would occur with the development. She said the roundabout on 7 Mile and Center provides a means to space vehicles farther apart while traveling, making it safer for pedestrians and drivers. She noted that traffic lights create a platoon of vehicles traveling from light to light, which makes it harder to cross a street at busy times. City Traffic Engineer Steve Dearing, of OHM, was present at the meeting and answered commissioners’ questions.

Commissioners recommended that city staff initiate exploratory discussions with Wayne County regarding the feasibility of a roundabout at 7 Mile and S. Center St.

Chair Donna Tinberg noted in an email after the meeting, “While this is far from a final decision, commissioners generally agreed that a modest, well-designed roundabout might be the most effective strategy for both calming traffic speeds and improving traffic flow at that intersection. Pedestrian/bicyclist safety, including appropriate islands, signage, and signaling, were of critical importance to commissioners.”

The developer proposed providing a certain amount of funding to address traffic impacts from the project, and let the city decide how to apply that funding to traffic improvements. Several commissioners were asking for this type of plan to validate traffic changes during and after construction and make changes that would help traffic flow with the developer’s dollars. No funding agreement has yet been developed and the commissioners agreed to bring this up at a later date.

To address a concern from the May 3 meeting about the length of discussions on topics being deliberated, Tinberg implemented a new process. Commissioners could speak on a topic for up to five minutes; if other commissioners wanted to hear more they would give a thumbs up. This would go on until the commissioner got to a cap of 30 minutes on that topic. In practice, it worked well. However, due to the amount of information processed and discussed, the meeting still lasted four hours.

View the video here