A small but vocal group of residents are disputing whether a decision to upgrade parts of Belmont Road was properly handled. They hope to stop the Kent County Road Commission project.
On Friday, February 26, about 20 people met at Plainfield Township Hall to speak with Senator Mark Jansen, who was holding office hours there.
The group, led by Belmont resident Tim Rau, also confronted the Plainfield Township Board on Monday, March 1 to state their complaints.
The Kent County Road Commission (KCRC) received a federal grant to help cover the costs of road improvements on Belmont Road from Jupiter to Post drive, a 1.1 mile stretch.
According to Jon Rice, managing director of the KCRC, that stretch of road will be widened into a narrow three-lane road, enclosed storm drains, curbs and gutters will be put in and some sidewalks will be added.
Financing on the $1.4 million project will be covered with an 80-20 split, with the federal grant paying for 80 percent, KCRC paying $300,000 and Plainfield Township contributing $200,000.
Opponents of the project insist they were not involved in the planning of the work, believe the addition of the third lane will increase traffic speed and endanger the students at the two elementary schools and one day care center located within the improvement boundaries. They also believe property values will decrease for residents on the road.
The owner of Consolidated Controls, just north of Plainfield Township Hall, said the widening would be a hardship for his business and likely make him unable to park in front of his business.
“This is a rural area. Are we trying to put an expressway in there? If anything, narrow the road and push traffic to Jupiter,” he stated. He stated that a residence north of him has a porch already practically on the road and the Belmont Grocery is also very close as it is.
Robert Homan, Plainfield Township manager, told the audience that in some form, the project has been in the works for decades and at one point a four-lane road was planned.
Those opposing the plan believe the process did not sufficiently allow public input as required.
Rau said he believes planners of the project were unlawful in excluding public input. He said an informational meeting held in the dead of winter fell on the worst snow day of the year and was not rescheduled. “It’s morally wrong,” he stated.
After some respectful and more scornful questioning by residents, several board members expressed concern at the level of opposition to the project.
Supervisor George Meek said that in both a public hearing and the informational meeting few residents showed up. “Because of lack of participation, we assumed there was no opposition, but that’s not the case,” he said.
Previously the board had unanimously voted to contribute $200,000 toward the project, with the exception of Jack Hagedorn, who had been absent.
“I use the White Pine Trail and am already nervous about crossing it with two lanes,” said Trustee Rebecca Borek. She also recalled the township’s former farm market with the parking across the road and said that was difficult to cross there as well.
Hagedorn said there was a lot of opposition and misunderstanding over the project. “Personally I feel we might want to step back from the project,” he said.
Clerk Scott Harvey said he voted for the expansion. “Three months after the vote we were running out of money and I wish I could change my vote,” he stated.
Rice who said construction is tentatively slated to start in June, said currently 8,500 cars per day go through the section of road. “When we do a design, we do it for a 20-year projection,” he said, noting that it is expected in 20 years that 11,000 vehicles daily will use the street.
The road has long needed improvements, but there was no funding, a point Meek had made during the meeting.
Rice said the third lane would improve traffic flow, especially with the number of turns in the area. “Third lanes have worked extremely well. They provide safe left-hand turns, taking away conflict points of cars waiting for the vehicle in front of them to make a left-hand turn and passing on the shoulder.”
Drainage has also long been an issue for that section of road, very flat with a tendency for puddles to develop on rainy or snow melt days. The issue has “been there forever” and the curbs and storm drains would alleviate the problem.
KCRC staff was on hand during the informational meeting when heavy snow was blamed on poor public turnout. Rice said he, the five-member Board of County Road Commission, and four KCRC staff members attended the meeting. It had been published in a legal announcement in the Grand Rapids Press, on two roadside signs and letters were sent to every home in the proposed expansion stretch of road. Eight members of the public showed up.
Rice said that informational meeting was not required, but was in addition to the public hearing, which is required. At that meeting, held at the township hall on January 12, 2010, five residents showed up.
Public input from the informational meeting was incorporated into the current plan, Rice said. At the first meeting, residents expressed concerns about the third land and the width of the road, so the final plan is a narrow third-lane road.
“We narrowed it by two feet on each side to allow more parkway,” he said. He also said no property owners lost property as all expansion is in right-of-way of the road.
Trees will be removed as part of the project, Rice said. He stated that in any project that addressed the drainage issue, trees would have to come down, regardless of widening the road.
It’s going to be a huge improvement,” Rice said and believes it is greatly to taxpayers’ advantage to have the road improved without costing local taxpayer dollars. Plainfield Township’s $200,000 portion comes from block grants and is not coming out of general funds, according to Supervisor Meek.
The County still needs to obtain permits from property owners in order to complete grades along some of the yards and driveways. Rice said this is to smooth the height difference between roadway and yards and avoid issues of standing water at property lines. He said several homeowners have yet to provide the county with the permission to perform that work.
“People have been very agreeable,” he said of obtaining most permits.
At the close of Monday’s board meeting, most Plainfield trustees seemed interested in arranging another meeting between the Plainfield board, the KCRC and the public. Tim Rau said he was happy with this result. “It seemed like some emotion was getting through,” he said.
In addition to the Belmont expansion, the KCRC has two other projects listed for 2010. On West River Drive from Jupiter Avenue to East of Verta Drive will be reconstruction and the addition of a center left turn lane for an overall five-lane section. It will include concrete curb and gutter, storm sewer, sidewalk ramps, concrete and HMA pavement. Two-way traffic (one-lane in each direction) will be maintained during construction.
On Northland Drive from M-57 to 15 Mile Road will be reconstruction and widening to a three-lane all season section. It will include concrete curb and gutter, storm sewer, ditches and HMA pavement. Through traffic will be detoured.