Partnership developed for S. 11th

Published 9:17 pm Monday, January 3, 2011

A state grant is aimed at developing South 11th Street in Niles and Niles Township. (File photo)

It would seem 2011 will be a year of planning for the future when it comes to the stretch of South 11th Street in Niles and Niles Township.

After being chosen in September to participate in the Partnerships for Change Sustainable Communities Program developed by the Michigan Municipal League, officials announced a joint effort by local governments to begin an extensive planning process to develop the South 11th Street corridor.

“We have a number of vacant, available and underutilized properties along the corridor,” Shelley Klug, executive director of the Southwestern Michigan Economic Growth Alliance, said. She expects the plan to outline ways to improve the economic and community development opportunities along the corridor.

“Working cooperatively on this plan should help us focus on ways to attract new businesses and boost the commercial success of existing businesses,” Klug said.

Right now, there’s no telling just what development would mean for the stretch of commercial space and streetscape that has been “long considered the gateway to the greater Niles community.”

“Part of the planning process is to determine what the objectives are for South 11th,” said Juan Ganum, community development director for the City of Niles. Though an exact outline “remains to be seen,” Ganum said.

“I would anticipate the plan would contain objectives related to land use within both the city and the township and zoning regulations that pertain to both, specifically how both jurisdictions can create a uniform zoning code,” he said.

Ganum said he wouldn’t necessarily call separate codes a deterrent to prospective developers, but to have uniform regulations would be “advantageous.”

Another benefit he said could come from the planning for the corridor project would be “recommendations regarding infrastructure.”

“As soon as the state line is crossed from those folks going northward, that’s the image and the reality they see” of the Niles area, Ganum said.

Sidewalks or other forms of infrastructure could be results of the planning meetings.

In starting the project, local officials acknowledged the connection between the corridor, surrounding neighborhoods, local businesses and first-time visitors to the community.

The plan is also expected to address pedestrian accessibility, streetscaping and aesthetic improvements, linkages to the surrounding neighborhoods, green infrastructure and opportunities to better capitalize on the community’s gateway experience.

“We are taking every measure to be sure the plan will address the concerns of local residents and the business community,” Ganum said in an official announcement, adding that input will be collected through a series of public meetings throughout the 10-month planning process.

The first public meeting is scheduled to take place in February.

“We believe public input is a vital component of the planning process and we invite everyone to share their ideas,” Peg Hartman, member of the Niles Charter Township Planning Commission, said.

Hartman went on to note that in addition to the public meetings, citizens are welcome to attend monthly meetings hosted by the project steering committee. The project’s steering committee meets the third Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. (locations for the meetings vary; for more information, contact the Southwestern Michigan Economic Growth Alliance.)

Asked if one of the goals of the project was to see big-name retailers come to the corridor, Ganum reiterated that what awaits the future of South 11th Street is unknown.

Sitting down to one of the meetings, he said, “each (participant) would give you their own version” of their vision for the area.

In terms of a realistic time table Ganum said, “the planning process itself will be several months. It will carry us through the majority of 2011. Change is possible at any moment but whether its a direct result of that planning process is difficult to measure.”

If the past serves as an example for the future, “If I hit rewind 10 years, there has been quite significant amount of development on South 11th Street within the city limits,” Ganum said, adding he didn’t want to speak for the township.

Assistance with the development of the corridor plan is being provided by LIAA, a non-profit community service organization based in Traverse City, Mich.  LIAA’s support is provided under a service grant from the Partnerships for Change Sustainable Communities Program.

The Partnerships for Change Sustainable Communities Program was created by LIAA, in cooperation with the Michigan Municipal League, Michigan Townships Association, Michigan Association of Planning and Michigan State University Extension. The program is designed to help cities, villages and adjacent townships work together to stimulate and support new multi-jurisdictional policies and programs that result in the preservation of valuable cultural and natural resources while encouraging urban redevelopment. Partnerships for Change Sustainable Communities is Michigan’s first statewide program to support joint municipal planning and resource management.

“There are many other communities across the state working together to establish a more dynamic sense of place along their suburban transportation corridors,” said Harry Burkholder, community planner for LIAA who is assisting on the project. “We are delighted that the Niles community recognizes how important this corridor is to local and statewide transportation and economic development. We look forward to working with all community members to craft a well-informed corridor plan that will serve the Niles community for years to come.”