New group forming to help neighbors

Published 10:41 am Friday, February 2, 2007

By By ANDY HAMILTON / Niles Daily Star
NILES – A Niles neighborhood is making a direct connection with city government.
A start-up organization is forming for the neighborhood near where Business U.S. 31 enters town along the east side of the St. Joseph River, including Marmont, River, Phoenix, Desaix and Front streets. Nancy Clough, a resident of Marmont Street, approached Niles Community Development Director Juan Ganum with the idea late last year.
"It's definitely a grass roots effort," Ganum said. "I think she just wanted to see if the city could assist the neighborhood in making the improvements."
Ganum suggested gathering a group of neighbors. The first meeting the end of November drew 12 people, and nine people were at Wednesday's gathering, though both Ganum and Clough chalked up the drop in attendance to the weather, not a lack of interest.
"It's a real start up and a loose group of 10 to 15 people … with potential for 125 households," Clough said, who is also getting help from her husband, Dave Mongeon.
The retired couple moved to Niles from Minnesota – near Lake Minnetonka – three years ago and built a home on land inherited from Clough's father. Clough said the people in Michigan are much friendlier than at her last home.
"We know more people here than we did in our neighborhood in Minnesota where we lived for 25 years," she said.
Clough said the idea for a neighborhood association is not a result of any problem or threat, but instead is just a desire to improve and maintain the area she calls home. The group has been discussing a wide range of topics, including commercial and residential development – the Niles-Buchanan YMCA, the dentist office of Dr. Rick Beckermeyer and Riverside Food and Liquor Store have all opened in the last year – the expansion of the wastewater treatment plant, a possible addition to the city's trail system and environmental concerns for the St. Joseph River.
"We want to see that done well and we want to see it done right," she said of the wastewater treatment plant project, which the city has approved paying nearly $12 million for.
"We're a river community and we kind of live with the ups and downs of the river," she added, pointing to the rising water level and how it affects homes in the neighborhood.
The association also wants to keep the projects fun, like throwing neighborhood cookouts or street parties.
Ganum said the first two meetings have been the sites of "fairly good discussion(s) on issues that directly affect the neighborhood," such as code enforcement, public property like the Marmont Street boat ramp and the wastewater treatment plant. The plant dominates the neighborhood, Ganum said, and the association's concerns lie with what will happen with the expansion and how much noise and smell it will generate.
"I told the neighbors this is going to be a citizens' driven effort with support from the city," Ganum said.
He also said the association could be a model for neighborhoods in the rest of Niles, because one of the goals listed in the city's master plan adopted by city council is to encourage the formation of neighborhood organizations. First Ward Councilmembers Patricia Gallagher and Georgia Boggs, who 20 years spearheaded the Northside Neighborhood Association, have already responded by each attending one of the meetings.
"It's kind of a combination of organizing a neighborhood association and communication between the city and the neighborhood," Ganum said.
The neighborhood association has no scheduled meetings, but Clough said the group might gather in early March in milder weather conditions.