Choices for log cabin, Central Park, river park
Posted on 07/14/2022
Overhead illustration of Central Park, provided by developer.The Parks, Public Spaces and Farmers’ Market topic of the Downs preliminary site plan had focused discussions and presentations that engaged commissioners, members of various task forces, and the Hunter Pasteur Homes development team at the Planning Commission’s July 5 meeting.

Seth Herkowitz, of Hunter Pasteur Homes, gave a presentation. He said some of the public benefits of the PUD are the Central Park, the daylighted river, and the river park with an attractive water retention pond that will have permanent water and one or two fountains. There are also pocket parks on several streets. The developer said he would pay up to $125,000 to move the historic log cabin to another site near the river but wants the process to be managed by the city.

Log cabin could be moved
Historian Bill Stockhausen, from the River Restoration Task Force, informed the commission and developer about the background of the log cabin at 318 River St. It was built in 1936 for the owner, Miss Mary Gilbert. The cabin was built with state-of-the-art construction of airlocked logs that give it a finished look inside and out, and has a tall stone chimney. Log cabin expert Grizzly Bob Kenel told Stockhausen the structure could be moved. The presenter noted, “It’s a treasure, something that other communities would want to have.”

Suggested uses for the cabin could be as a local museum, with memorabilia from the Downs and the former Wayne County Fairgrounds, or converting it into a restroom at the river park or Ford Field. If it were installed at Ford Field, the Parks & Recreation Commission would need to accept it and finance the upkeep after the move.

The question arose about who will be responsible for the maintenance of the new parks. Would it be Parks & Recreation, the city, or another combination of funding? That’s something the Downs Project Advisory Committee (DPAC) will need to explore as part of financing.

Daylighting the river
Herkowitz said the daylighted Middle Rouge River flow is anticipated to be 30 ft. wide with a bank width of 160 ft. and 1,117 ft. long – approximately ¼ mile. The projected timeline, should the site plan be approved, is to commence daylighting the river and building the riverbank in 2024, which is expected to take six months to complete. He anticipates it will take 85 weeks to get the necessary environmental approvals from the county and state.

In the park landscaping portion of HPN’s presentation, Landscape Architect Randy Metz said plans are to naturalize the riverbank and transform the blighted area into a beautiful park with a river flowing through it. He said it will be one of the largest daylighting river projects in Michigan in recent history. Engineer Bob Eberine, of Siebert Kiest, said daylighting the river could be the crown jewel for the city.

Central Park to be key gathering space

Kathy Spillane and Bob Hoida presented a report from the Central Park Study Group, a volunteer team of city residents that reviewed the Central Park layout and proposed uses. They noted there’s an 18-foot grade change from Cady to Beal Street. The current plan, with the long expanse of lawn divided into quadrants, could be refined, designing each quadrant with a different look and purpose. For example, one could have more trees, another could have mostly grass with some shade trees and a play structure. Hoida said not all sections need to have tiered steps.

Spillane said the front quadrant facing Cady with the hard surface plaza could be used for food trucks, staging and storage. In the winter, that section could become an ice rink if funds are available. The grassy quadrant next to it could retain the tiered steps to serve as amphitheater seating for concerts and events. While many in the community want a splash pad, the park team felt it would get too noisy at this location and would be better suited for Ford Field. One of the goals this team and the Planning Commission has for the park is to integrate neighborhoods by bringing together both new and existing residents.

City Planner Sally Elmiger, of Carlisle Wortman Associates, said the park design will be reviewed in detail during the final site plan stage.

Farmer’s Market future destination
The developer is proposing keeping the Farmers’ Market at its current location in 2023 and commencing construction at the end of that market season. The temporary location for the market in 2024 and 2025 could be at Griswold and Beal, with construction beginning on the north end of the site. In 2026, the market would move offsite to a location selected by the Chamber Board of Directors with input from the city on their preferred site.

Susan Hafleigh, a member of the subgroup studying the Farmers’ Market, reviewed requirements for the Farmers’ Market site and provided an update about the subgroup’s recent meeting with the chair of the Michigan Farmers Market Association.

The Master Plan developed by the subgroup shows the Farmers’ Market staying in the city, but not permanently in the Downs site. If the chamber moved it temporarily to Northville Township, Hafleigh said she would be worried that the city would not get the market back.

Regarding the housing part of the development, Herkowitz said the architect is working on the entryway into Northville as well as designing homes for the corner lots that address both streets. He said the private drives in the center part of the development would be 18 feet wide with two-way traffic and the drives south would remain at 22 feet because of the need for ladder truck access. The alleyways behind the single-family homes would remain at 12 feet wide, and be one-way.

Only two people spoke during public comment on the topic of architecture, landscaping and aesthetics, which took place at the beginning of the meeting. Commissioners wrapped up discussion of this topic at their previous meeting.

Lenore Lewandowski, 119 Randolph, said the commission needs to create an ordinance on rooftop features since the city currently has none. Regarding architecture, she recommended that the east side of S. Center be more business-like with first-floor retail and housing units (e.g. townhomes or condos) on the upper level. She said the carriage homes on the west side of the street are appropriate. She questioned whether the housing units would be affordable to three of the nine demographic segments the developer is targeting. She said many young families, modern families and independent singles likely can’t afford the starting price of $525,000.

Nancy Chirri, 661 W. Main, said she’s happy to see all the parks in the plan but is concerned about traffic flow to get to those parks and whether there will be enough parking near the parks. She also said the position of the proposed roundabout needs to be carefully considered for the space it requires and how it will fit with the river and bridge near 7 Mile and Sheldon. She also said Center is an emergency route and fire trucks need to get through.

Chair Donna Tinberg thanked citizens for their involvement in the site plan review process, which she noted is very important. She expressed concern that the PC is getter fewer citizen comments than in the early stages of the application. She wasn’t sure if that reflected public exhaustion with the lengthy review process or support for the proposed changes to the project.

Commissioner David Hay requested that City Planner Elmiger and City Manager Pat Sullivan prepare a summary of what DPAC will review in the preliminary site plan so the Planning Commission better understands their role in how closely to look at infrastructure, financials and phasing. He also expects the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority will become involved when the developer pursues that avenue.

Tinberg reviewed the topics already covered by the Planning Commission and projected a timeline for the remaining topics of deliberation. Commissioner Thom Barry said he wants to make sure any unresolved issues are addressed. Tinberg projected the review of the preliminary site plan could wrap up in late August and the Planning Commission may be ready to make a recommendation to City Council in September.

View the video here.