City unveils master plan

By By BEN RAYMOND LODE / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- A steady stream of people dropped by City Council Chambers Thursday afternoon to see the new City of Niles' Master Plan draft.
The draft, which is the city's first since 1955, outlines guidelines for the physical development for the city of Niles.
According to the plan, some of the key improvements to be made are in residential areas, making the business district more compact and designating the river floodplane to the south of the city as a natural preserve.
Other plans include additional housing around the train depot and a new parking lot has been identified on the east and west side of the river for the future.
In addition, South Eleventh Street is identified as a regional commercial area to distinguish the nature of commercial development along that corridor from all other commercial development in the city.
Jay Kilpatrick, a consultant with Grand Rapids-based Williams and Works, has helped the city and its planners create the new 100-page draft it has taken nine months to complete.
The biggest challenge for Niles, Kilpatrick said, is to improve upon its residential areas, which currently are relatively weak in terms of prices.
Another challenge the city is facing is the ongoing change from being an industrial community to a more service industry oriented community.
Kilpatrick, who has many years of experience helping townships and cities create development plans, said he has seen a lot of defeatism in other communities.
But apparently not so in Niles.
Before the Master Plan gets approved, it will be sent out to surrounding municipalities who have the opportunity to raise issues concerning the plan.
When approved, which city officials say will be sometime before the end of the year, Kilpatrick said the first thing that needs to be changed are the city's zoning ordinances.
He said they must be changed to facilitate the development of compact residential areas which will create walkable communities and neighborhoods.
Bruce Williams, Fourth Ward council member, helped create the Master Plan.
He said the plan offers no major changes, but is more a continuation of what is already going on in the city.
Williams, however, is excited about the city's future.
Ellwin Coulston, a long-time city planning commission member, also dropped by the council chambers on Thursday afternoon.
Having followed the development of the Master Plan draft closely, but not being involved in the creation of it, Coulston thinks the people involved in the project have done a good job.
Juan Ganum, the city's community development director, said he doesn't expect any major issues to surface when the new plan is sent out to surrounding cities and townships.
And, Ganum said, the city has already worked closely with Howard Township to create shared development plans for the future.

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