New details on parks presented to commissioners
Posted on 07/28/2022
An aerial view of the preliminary site plan with parks at the east and north side.The Planning Commission continued discussion on parks, public spaces and the Farmers’ Market at its July 19 meeting – delving into River Park and seeking to add a second bridge over the proposed daylighted river. Opportunity for public comment on the topic is expected at the next PC meeting on Aug. 2.

City Planner Sally Elmiger noted that Central Park and River Park, including daylighting the river, are two of the main public benefits of the project. She said the costs of improvements to serve the project aren’t fully known and there are many details to work out about who pays for what.

Hunter Pasteur CEO Randy Wertheimer said he has weekly meetings with his development team and he wants members of the River Restoration Task Force to assist in detailing design of the River Park and daylighting the river. He and his team have been in previous discussions with members of the task force led by Nancy Darga. River Park’s proposed size (separate from the stormwater basins) is approximately 7.5 acres. Within the larger park, there’s one acre near the Griswold extension entrance that could be a site for sports and public gatherings. For comparison, Ford Field is six acres.

Commissioner Thom Barry said, “This (river daylighting) is so big.” He said while he’s not qualified to talk about native plants, soil erosion and other matters, he wants to have experts in the field review and confirm the design plans for the riverbanks and surrounding park when that aspect of the plan comes under review.

Elmiger assured him that EGLE (The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy) and Wayne County will have requirements since the daylighted river is under their jurisdiction, and these agencies have standards regarding which type of plantings to include along the riverbanks to benefit the ecosystem.

Bob Emerine, HPN’s engineering consultant, explained the probable construction sequence for daylighting the river but also said the contractor’s means/method could be different. After demolition of buildings on the site, excavation of the river channel would be done to the east of the existing box culvert*. It may not be the final river channel, but it will provide a place to divert the river flow while the box culvert is being removed. A segment of the box culvert will be demolished at the north and south ends, and the river will be diverted into the newly excavated channel with sheet pilings, or some type of check dam decided by the contractor. A pump system may be needed, even temporarily, to manage the conversion from an enclosed waterway to a free-flowing river. The remainder of the box culvert would be removed after river flow is established in the channel. When complete, the river (30 feet wide) would flow through a 90-foot-wide flood zone (bottom) and the river banks would be 160 feet wide. He said when he first met with EGLE representatives in 2018/2019 to discuss the project, they indicated the plan looked good and agreed that the river would have a nice, sinuous flow.

Commissioner AnnaMaryLee Vollick recommended adding a second bridge over the river to link to Gardner on the south side near 7 Mile to improve walkability, and other commissioners agreed.

Discussion on Central Park reviewed how the developer could better integrate the promenade into the park. Wertheimer showed new illustrations, prepared by the landscape architect, of sidewalks through the park, connecting the promenade with the sidewalk along Hutton St. at each quadrant. The sidewalks into the park will be the same material as the hard surface proposed in the first quadrant next to Cady St. Further, the material pattern would be the same as what’s currently used on Main Street to help integrate the two main downtown streets.

Pocket parks at three corners fronting S. Center and Fairbrook and S. Center and Beal were further explored. Alex Martin, CEO of Toll Brothers, suggested these green spaces would be a place of respite for pedestrians and provide a visual break from the buildings on that street. Another pocket park at the southern end of the Downs development, near townhomes with its own parking, was reviewed closely but left as is. The developer said the pocket parks are intended for the public and residents of the development, with the expectation that the future Homeowners Association will pay for maintenance of these parks.

Meanwhile, the Downs Project Advisory Committee (DPAC) held its first meeting on July 15. PC Chair Donna Tinberg also serves on this committee, which will work on a financial framework that delineates the city’s costs as well as the developers. DPAC will analyze the cost aspect of the public benefits, and provide recommendations to the Planning Commission. The advisory committee is a resource to the Planning Commission as the commissioners get closer to taking a vote on whether or not to recommend to City Council that the Downs redevelopment project be granted PUD/preliminary site plan approval.

Elmiger said the motion for PUD/preliminary site plan approval should list all of the details of the recommended changes and conditions agreed to by the Planning Commissioners.

Wertheimer said he plans to finalize the sale of the Downs property only after gaining PUD/preliminary site plan approval. At that point, he said HPN would have six months to clear the Downs racetrack, clean up the environmental waste/toxins on the property, and prepare the land for Toll Brothers to build on. Concurrently, the detailed design work to daylight the river would begin; HPN expects it will take 85 weeks to gain all the necessary approvals from the local and state jurisdictions for the river project.

* A culvert is a component of a drainage system allowing water to flow beneath roads, trails or railways. The box is usually buried in the ground with the road passing over the culvert.

View the meeting video here.