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Business owners crash village meeting


Streetscape problems unite struggling businesses



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From left, Patrica Hermans, of Elements, Elvira Tolentino, owner of Elvira’s High Fashion, Brandee Perigo, of Ed’s Gifts, Patti Snider, owner of Patti’s Place , and Matt Heasley, owner of Poppyseed all stand by the lamp post that was moved in front of Snider’s business. Photo by Gabriel Ouzounian (click for larger version)
June 22, 2011 - The June 13 Village Council meeting was far more eventful than its agenda led readers to believe.

Nearly every seat was filled by a downtown business owner or affiliate, and the meeting's call to the public section, which is usually sparsely used, devoured the majority of the meeting, as business owner after business owner stood at the podium. It marked one of the first times this large a number - around 10 - downtown property owners united to voice a negative opinion of the Streetscape project.

"The town was never supposed to be completely shut down, but it is shut down; the roads were supposed to be open to the businesses, but they are not; the placement of the trees and lamp posts were never discussed," said Kevin Snider, co-owner of Patti's Place for Hair at 21 S. Broadway. "This last Saturday, I walked from Patti's place, to the bank, and back, stopping into business as I went, and didn't see a single customer.

"Lake Orion has become a ghost town."

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Kevin had also come to the meeting to complain about the placement of a lamppost, which had been moved from where it was, between two different facades, to directly in front of their door. Kevin explained how he and Patti had spent a large sum to renovate the facade of the building, and had actually won awards for the design from the Mainstreet Oakland County project. They complained about it one day, only to find concrete poured around the fixture the next.

Another issue experienced by multiple business owners is the matter of damage done to the existing buildings. Citing machinery that they believe is simply too big, Kevin told the board of the damage done to his building.

"The demo in this town has taken a small town with hundred-year-old buildings, come in with heavy machinery, heavy jack hammers, pounding, and has shaken my building to its roots," said Kevin. "The chimney is off to the side, the foundation has cracks in it, there are pieces the size of you fist falling right out of the wall. We've had electrical plugs pop right out of the wall, we've had drywall fall from the ceiling, our tiled floor is all cracked.

"We have no idea what the extent of the damage done by this construction is."

Kevin also described an event in which Patti sent a letter to the DDA, only to have the letter turned over to the construction company. The company, believing the letter to be a claim, denied it.

Over the next hour, a number of other business owners stood up to declare their displeasure, complaints, and in some cases, fear.

I want to speak for everyone quickly, because I've talked to everyone here, we all love Lake Orion, we try to give back when we can, but I think we were told we would get one thing and we got something else," said Shelley Peek, co-owner of Elements at 11 S. Broadway. "I understand delays, and I understand money, but these guys have not cleaned up. It's a shoddy job, and I think everyone knows it, but I don't think anyone knows what to do.

"I'm trying to stay positive everyday, but it's been hard to be positive with all this. Sales are down 50 percent. It's a shame. They just started to lay the brick today, its taken them a long time to get started on that, and in the meantime the streets have been closed, business has shut down, and we're bleeding - we're bleeding."

Joining Peek and Kevin were Elvira Tolentino, or Elvira's High Fashions, Lloyd and Cathey Coe of Ed's Gifts, Rob Reighert of M & B Graphics and Valentinos, and more.

Other prominent problems discussed were the prominent incline of the sidewalk near Front Street and Broadway and the general belief among the owners that Dan's Excavating was inexperienced in downtown work. One owner cited Dan's work on highways, adding they were not prepared to do finesse work.

"One of the things that we've done collectively, including the DDA, is meeting with a construction committee, and we watch the project as best we can," said Village President Ken VanPortfliet. "I felt the selection process for the contractor was flawed, at the state level, because the way it works now when MDOT participates in a project, is they select a contractor, and that contractor works for us, but we didn't hire them, so it can become a very difficult situation.

"The criteria for how they select that contractor is interesting to say the least. We also don't feel like we have gotten what we should have from the support standpoint."

VanPortfliet said the incline problem, at least, was something the village and the DDA were fully aware of and addressing.

According to a memo handed out during the meeting, the completion of the project is still on schedule for a June 27 completion. In the time between the meeting and the publication of this article, trees and brick have gone in rapidly.

The Lake Orion Review previously reported problems experienced by downtown business owners in the May 18, 2011 issue. In that instance, two owners - Lloyd Coe and Ron Sweet, owner of 20 E. Front Street, cited damage done to their buildings.

For more information on the Streetscape and it's progress, call Lake Orion's DDA at (248) 693-9742 or visit Wade Trim's website at wadetrim.com/lakeorionstreetscape.

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