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Changes recommended for alley project to address residents' concerns

August 27, 2014 - It appears Pearl St. residents won't be getting the concrete wall they wanted to separate them from the alley Oxford Village is planning to build just west of their backyards.

But that's okay because they seem to be content with all the changes that were recommended for the village's East/Edison Alley project in order to address their concerns regarding increased traffic, noise and light pollution, safety and privacy.

"We're trying to do the best we can do," said village Planning Commissioner Jack Curtis, who's also a township trustee. "I think we made some good headway."

Planning commissioners addressed the alley project at their Aug. 19 meeting.

The project originally called for constructing a 900-foot asphalt road, just east of M-24, between Ensley St. and Holy Cross Lutheran Church. It was to be 28 feet wide and consist of two 12-foot lanes for northbound and southbound vehicles, plus a 4-foot lane for bicycles.

Another 300-foot portion of asphalt road was to be constructed parallel to the church property to the south. It was to be 16 feet wide and consist of a 12-foot lane for eastbound vehicular traffic, plus a 4-foot bicycle lane.

Under a new plan proposed by the Pontiac-based Nowak & Fraus Engineers, the 300-foot portion was completely eliminated, so traffic would not be able to access the alley from M-24.

"We've eliminated probably 500 cars a day," Curtis said. "I think that's huge."

Eliminating this portion of the alley would save approximately $50,000. That was a ballpark estimate provided by Rob Lavoie, president of Nowak & Fraus Engineers.

The village previously received bids ranging from $327,102 to $409,069 to construct the alley. The low bid was from Ron Bretz Excavating, Inc. in Lapeer.

Now that the alley is proposed to be a dead-end, the planning commission, in its list of recommendations to the village council, advised eliminating the 4-foot bicycle lane.

Commissioners didn't see a need for it.

"Where's a bike going to go? There's nowhere to go," said Commissioner Maureen Helmuth, who serves on the village council.

Under the new proposed plan, the alley would simply consist of a 24-foot wide asphalt road that begins at Ensley St. and ends in a Y-shaped turnaround just past where the new Genisys Credit Union facility is being built.

Lavoie estimated this would reduce the proposed length of the alley by approximately 100 feet, which would also save money.

Commissioners recommended the alley be moved 14 feet to the west so as to preserve existing berms and some trees that would separate it from backyards along Pearl St.

In places where no berm exists between the proposed alley and Pearl St. properties, planning commissioners recommended 4-foot-high berms be added.

"If there's going to be a berm, there should be a berm all the way down," said Commissioner John DuVal.

They also recommended all the berms be topped with arborvitae trees, conifers and deciduous trees. They recommended a 5-to-1 pattern, meaning between every five arborvitae trees, a conifer or deciduous tree would be planted.

The berms and trees are meant to provide the screening Pearl St. residents are seeking between them and the alley.

Some Pearl St. residents, like Jim Suchy, wanted a concrete wall to protect against vehicles accidentally driving into their backyards.

"I want to have kids in that neighborhood someday," he said. "Safety is my biggest concern."

Suchy also felt a concrete wall was necessary to help prevent "punks" from vandalizing and stealing from Pearl St. properties.

"Once people see what (other) people have and they don't have it, a lot of people turn jealous," he said.

Ultimately, the planning commission felt a concrete wall was not a viable option here.

"The village doesn't have the money to put up a concrete wall," said Commissioner Sue Bossardet, who also serves on the village council. Helmuth agreed.

Curtis advised Pearl St. residents to "be careful what you ask for" because if a wall was constructed, it would be located right on their property lines and they would lose their existing berms.

DuVal noted a masonry fence (i.e. wall) does not offer Pearl St. properties any guaranteed security because there's nothing to stop someone from simply going over it or a vehicle from crashing into it.

To him, "obscuring" the activity, noise and headlights from the alley is the purpose of placing screening between it and the Pearl St. yards. "That's about the only guarantee you can make," DuVal said.

He believes this can be accomplished using berms and trees.

In order to control truck traffic, planning commissioners recommended signs be posted that prohibit commercial vehicles from entering the alley from Ensley St.

Trucks would only be allowed to use the alley as an exit after having entered properties from M-24.

Overall, DuVal hopes the proposed alley will be an "improvement" and an "asset" to this corner of the village. He said right now, the area is "secluded," making it a potential "magnet" for illegal activity such loitering and thefts.

To DuVal, the alley will make it "a far more civilized area" than exists now.

The village council will address the alley project at a 4 p.m. special meeting Aug. 28. Officials are scheduled to discuss and possibly act upon the planning commission's recommendations, financing for the project and the construction contract.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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