DDA authorizes $52K to develop streetscape plan
July 20, 2011 - After nearly 50 minutes of debate, much of which was heated, the Oxford Downtown Development Authority Monday evening voted 5-3 to pay $52,500 to two planning firms to develop a streetscape plan in the hopes of obtaining grants to make it a reality.
"If you don't get in line with a plan, and do it early, there ain't going to be any money left," said DDA member Don Sherman. "We've got to have a plan. If (you) fail to plan, you fail yourself."
The DDA hired the Lathrup Village-based Birchler Arroyo Associates and Grissim Metz Andriese Associates, of Northville, to develop a streetscape that employs the principles of the "Complete Streets" concept, which basically involves redesigning the downtown area to make it more pedestrian-friendly and calm the thousands of vehicles traveling along M-24.
Sherman indicated actually implementing such a plan, depending on the project's scope, could cost $1 million to $1.5 million.
He noted the plan will not encompass the entire DDA district "from one end of the village boundary to the other."
Instead, it will focus "first and foremost" on the gateways, then on "the sweet spot," meaning the DDA district's "core," according to Sherman. The core is the Central Business District (C-1 zoning).
"This plan doesn't include everybody," he said. "We had to start somewhere." Sherman noted none of the properties he owns will be included in the streetscape plan.
The brunt of the opposition to expending $52,500 for developing this plan came from DDA member Chuck Schneider.
"The issue isn't whether or not we think Complete Streets is a good idea. Everybody thinks it's a good idea," he said. "The issue is should you spend $52,000 for a report that potentially, you don't have the resources to implement?"
"There is no money in our budget, not one dollar in our budget, to implement any type of Complete Street program," Schneider continued. "If your expectation is that we're going to approve this and then something mystically is going to happen to the downtown, that is an incorrect perception. The only thing that's going to happen is we're going to have a very thick three-ring binder that tells us what we can do when and if we get the money to do it."
He noted that any grant the DDA receives will most likely require hundreds of thousands of dollars in matching local funds, which the entity currently doesn't have in its budget.
Schneider felt there are other more pressing issues on which the DDA could be spending its money to deal with.
"Complete Streets is the way of the future. It's something that we ultimately should do, but I feel the timing is premature," he said. "I'm not against the program. I'm just saying take the $52,000 and let's get some things done that need to be done and then, worry about Complete Streets because we do not have the money to implement (it now)."
Schneider's comments drew sharp criticism from Sherman and DDA member Anna Taylor.
"Almost month after month, you're pretty much the mouthpiece who has criticized this board for not being progressive, for not thinking forwardly, for not keeping up with things that you've experienced in other communities," Sherman said.
He then pointed out how as a member of the Lake Orion DDA board, Schneider gave the opposite opinion when it came to that downtown's new streetscape.
"You told them that you can't get it done unless you have a plan," Sherman said. "You can't get it done unless you have a design. Well, in fact, that's what we're trying to do."
Schneider responded by saying, "I approved (the Lake Orion streetscape) for one very good reason – we had the money. We had the money to make the plan and we had the money to do it. That's a big difference."
He noted that the Lake Orion DDA used a combination of funds it had and money it borrowed, "so they have a very big debt service to deal with."
Holding up a thick packet of Lake Orion meeting minutes from 2007-10, Taylor claimed what Schneider said was "not true"
"That's not how it happened. I'm going to leave it at that," she said. "They came back to you five times to say you need a plan and the money was not there . . .There was some money, but the majority of the money came from grant writing."
Taylor said she can't guarantee Oxford's going to get any grant money for a new streetscape, but "we've got a shot, just as good as anybody, to go to MDOT (Michigan Department of Transportation)" seeking funds.
"We are the Downtown Development Authority and unless we start to prioritize, these kind of things are not going to happen," she noted.
Ultimately, Taylor believes it's leadership, not money, that's critical to making the streetscape a reality in Oxford.
"Money does not guarantee that a project is going to get done," she said.
Taylor noted how the streetscape project has been discussed in the past, but previous boards "failed to develop a plan" and get everyone on board with it. As a result, "money was swept from the DDA."
"Money does not guarantee that you're going to have leadership," Taylor said. "And what this DDA board needs is leadership."
DDA member Bill Dunn, who also serves as township supervisor, agreed with Schneider. "We do not have the money. Chuck is exactly right," he said.
Dunn, who's lived here since the 1950s, noted that millions of dollars have been spent studying M-24 "and nothing has happened."
DDA member Teri Stiles, who also serves as village president, indicated she supports the streetscape concept.
"I agree 999 percent you cannot even try to come up with fixing what's wrong here without having this plan," she said. "I know it needs to happen."
However, Stiles believes now is not the right time to solicit public support for such a potentially costly undertaking.
"I really think economically this is not a good time to get the residents on board with this," she said. "I think it's a bitter pill for them to swallow."
If a new streetscape is going to happen, it will require lots of public support, Stiles noted.
"You do have to have the support of an entire community when you take on something like that," she said.
A handful of downtown Oxford business owners spoke in support of the streetscape project and developing a plan for it.
"I believe this will bring more people to the downtown area," said Mary Lou Bielak, owner of Beadifferent.
"I love Oxford," said Hannah Cornell-Schroeder, owner of Soothe Your Soul. "I think we're making a big difference and I think that we can really become a great destination downtown. But it has to be safe; it has to be attractive; and it has to have the chance to be profitable."
Ella Fashion owner Lisi DeCampos told the DDA board that when she first moved here she "never, ever" shopped downtown because she was "really afraid" of getting hit by a truck. She said she's still afraid to let her kids run around Centennial Park for fear they might go into the road and get hit.
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.