Plans for nature trail, library expansion discussed at City Council
By BETH ALTENA
Three Boy Scout Eagle Scout candidates were in attendance for the evening’s discussion Monday, March 12 at the regular Rockford City Council meeting.
The City Manager’s report began with praise for a fruitful joint meeting between city council and the library board the previous Friday. “We were looking at the need for future expansion and properties to purchase toward that end,” said Thad Beard, Rockford City Manager. He said there are possibilities of remaining on the current Krause Memorial Library site at the corner of Bridge and Monroe streets.
The library has been considering sites within the downtown area and out, but would much prefer to stay in downtown Rockford. Beard said if any property were to be purchased, it would be in the name of the City of Rockford, which owns the library. Beard said he has spoken to the city’s expert on grants, Josh Zuiderveen, on whether a library expansion project, specifically the inclusion of greenspace as part of the project, could qualify under the Michigan Department of Natural Resources parameters.
The city had a planned work session and public hearing that Thursday to walk through new storm water ordinances. The current ordinances, Beard said, are lax and do not provide much protection downstream. The city has been working with the Grand Valley Metro Council to create more stringent measures.
“It’s exciting to see we’re making steps to offer more protection,” Beard stated.
There is good news from the Department of Public Safety, and next month at City Council there will be a recognition of saving the life of a person who had a heart incident. “It was a true community effort. It’s nice to celebrate a save of someone’s life.”
On a less sunny side, Well #3 is no longer a candidate for maintenance, which was much overdue, but is now a candidate for replacement. “We are not able to put that back online,” Beard said. Maintenance had been budgeted at $19,000, but now replacement will cost $24,000. The well needs a new motor and it would be good to get the well back online before residents begin irrigating. Currently the remaining two wells are sufficient.
Joan Pratt, speaking on behalf of the RAM Museum and Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Linda Southwick each spoke during public comments.
Frank Nelson was appointed to a four year term on the Planning Commission during Mayoral Appointments.
A question about a planned Tandem bike tour through town on Labor Day Saturday were cleared up by one of the organizers, who was present. He said the group had visited in 2005 and spent time in the downtown shops. The bikers are from Midwestern states all around and pick a new state each year to bike through.
Council voted to open up a public hearing and discussion regarding purchase of property and looking to pursue a grant from the Public Trust Fund as part of an extension of a riverfront nature trail. Beard said there is an 18 month window before purchase and price would be dependent on property appraisal. Because of the 18 month timeline, a second appraisal takes place prior to the actual closing. The grant pays 75 percent of the appraisal of the property with the city responsible for the remaining 25 percent.
Councilmember Jerry Coon asked, if the price goes up between the first and second appraisal, does the grant funding go up, too. Zuiderveen said that it does, plus or minus ten percent. “In this program, we’re paying 25 cent dollars, it’s still a pretty good deal.” Coon also asked if there would be any problem getting the grant.
Zuiderveen said the property is on a river, which scores it high, is adjacent to an existing park (Peppler Park on the Rogue River) which also scores it high and the city is not looking to develop it, and it will connect a nature trail to the White Pine Trail, both also plusses.
The grant deadline is April 1, so council would have February and March next year to approve it, May for a project agreement and underway by midsummer 2019. The meeting opened for public comments and then closed for public comments when there were none. Council voted unanimously to authorize the grant process.
Council opened and closed a public hearing regarding authorization of block grants for Hope Network and the solicitation of $8,000 in funds. Mayor Pro Tem Cheryl Scales and Councilwoman Melissa Young moved and supported approval of the funding process, which was unanimously approved.
Beard introduced the topic of alterations to the city’s sign ordinance. “This is something the Planning Commission has been working on this, has had public hearings and substantial discussion.” He said one change is the addition of allowing sandwich board signs to downtown. “We’ll see how that goes.”
Other C2 changes came from variance requests. There are many more changes to the ordinance, for example addressing expression signs (like Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter) and political signs and electronic sign regulation. Electronic signs are still allowed by banks and schools can post date and time messages electronically.
Beard said the Planning Commission spent two years working on the ordinance changes. Mayor Steve Jazwiec wanted to know how sandwich boards were going to work. Thad admitted, “I don’t know.” He said like trees in the sidewalk area, they are not supposed to be in walking paths and might require gentle reminders until merchants get used to the new rules.
“Since I’ve been here, the Planning Commission has been quite active. This was a side job for them. They receive no compensation and they’ve been earning their money,” he said by way of a compliment.
The city has a Prospect Street reconstruction process upcoming, “A sign spring must be somewhat near,” Beard said. “Our downtown is going to be quite a mess this summer, between business owners and the city, as they make improvements to their property and we also are making improvements.” The Prospect Street curb to curb improvements are estimated at $1 million dollars. All the roadwork planned for downtown Rockford this summer is budgeted at $3.8 million. “We are working with the schools on this,” Beard said. “We won’t start until school lets out and we plan to be done before school starts.” The work will be extensive, including all utilities, sidewalks, curb and gutter. Going up west Bridge Street (the hill) will be challenging.
To let neighbors know, the city plans to send letters to residents initially and then another letter with more specifics as they are known. “During the work it will be loud, dirty and annoying, but it will be worth it.”
Council next discussed taking advantage of a local government investment pool. Originally council voted to participate in 2002, but never acted on it, Beard stated. “It is offered by the county, they have more expertise than us.”
Finance Director Linda Lehman said, “This is a great tool to use when we have funds to invest.” Council voted to use the service when applicable.
The meeting ended with a overview of the City’s boards and commissions. Planning Commission has been working with developers of Heritage Park Phase Five, and met to review Restrictive Covenant language. Duplex and triplex units are restricted in the development and front facades are required to have brick or stone. The developer wants to talk to the commission on some variation of that requirement.
The Downtown Development Authority did not meet last month, nor did the Board of Zoning Appeals. The Economic Development Corporation was going to meet that Friday to discuss goals and objectives for the upcoming summer season. The Rockford Area Community Endowment did not meet last Valentine’s Day per the wife of the chair and was going to meet that week instead.
As Miscellaneous Items, Scales again brought up the library expansion and research maximizing use of the property.
Mayor Jazwiec commented, “I think that’s a step in the right direction.” He said the library currently has 9,500 square feet. “How much grass would we have to pave over? Could we double the size of the library and still have a bit of lawn?” There still has to be room for truck deliveries and programs. He suggested conversations about how that would work.
A resident knowledgeable about library engineering offered his opinion that it would be possible to build over the current building, but not simply put a second floor over the existing roof. It would be possible to build a new floor system straddling the building or penetrating the building with columns. “You could do it, you can do anything,” he stated.
Councilman Jerry Coon brought up D.A.R.E. funding and the fact that Rockford is the only district in the area still funding the program. He suggested that other communities don’t know about the value of D.A.R.E. and the positive interaction between kids and safety officers. “You can’t put a dollar amount on that. It’s good education.” He said he hopes Plainfield Township officials will reconsider
“If there is a time for that to be emphasized, this is the time,” said Beard.
Mayor Jazwiec also commended the Department of Public Safety for their response to an opiate incident. “Narcon had to be administered.”
He said he also is questioned often about the Corner Bar and asked if the city could do something with social media about it. Beard said there is going to be downtown camera on the building. He said he believed as early as next week construction was going to “be hot and heavy.” The meeting adjourned at about 8 p.m.