Niles city officials to apply for DNR grant for Pucker Street Dam park

NILES – Further progress on the Pucker Street Dam park was approved to move forward Monday evening by the Niles City Council.

The council voted to approve a grant application to be submitted for continued work on the Pucker Street Dam park. The council also approved a traffic order to prohibit parking in cul-de-sacs at the west end of Springfield Circle, Gettysburg, Hawthorne and Laurel drives.

As a part of the Parks and Recreation Plan passed on Feb. 8, one of the projects in the capital improvement schedule is the Niles Dam Park.

According to the recommendation to the council prepared by Sanya Vitale, Niles community development director, the city’s consultant estimated the cost of the park project to be at $310,400. Included in the plan from Vitale was placing a parking lot and a gravel boat launch access to the Dowagiac River.
“Limestone screening walkways will connect the parking lot to the shoreline, and supporting amenities, such as trash cans, recycle bins and benches, will be incorporated into the site,” Vitale’s report said.

The city will request $232,800 in grants from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The city will need $77,600 to support the project, which the report noted will need to be committed by the city or sought from other external funders.

“Our ultimate goal is to get someone else to take over the park, whether it’s our neighbors in the township, the county or the state,” said City Administrator Ric Huff. “Our preference is that it not be our responsibility.”

Council member John DiCostanzo noted the park was outside of city limits. Losensky Park, where the Pucker Street Dam park will be, is within Niles Charter Township.

“However, to keep the ball rolling, we are suggesting that we apply for this grant,” Huff said. “The monies can then be transferred to whomever does take over responsibility. The process will help get it [going] rather than delay it another year.”

The council voted six in favor, with DiCostanzo opposed. Council member Amanda Dunnem was absent from the meeting.

For the cul-de-sacs located at Springfield Circle, Gettysburg, Hawthorne and Laurel drives, “no parking” signage will soon be installed.

Resident of Gettysburg Drive, Jeremiah Diaz, addressed the council during public comment about the issues his family has faced with the parking in the cul-de-sac they live near.

“We started getting calls from [First Student, Niles Community Schools bus contractor] that they weren’t able to clear the cul-de-sec to be able to pick up and drop off our children,” Diaz said.

Diaz said he was told the buses were not able to turn around safely in the cul-de-sacs due to cars parked in them.

“According to [First Student], the city buses should never, unless they absolutely have to, go in reverse,” Diaz said. “They can’t see behind them. It’s dangerous.”

Diaz also spoke of a tragedy on Gettysburg Drive where a home burned down and emergency responders had a difficult time accessing the area, due to the parking. He also spoke about how he is recovering from surgery, making him unable to walk multiple blocks to pick up and drop off his children from a bus stop further away.

The report prepared by Public Works Director Joe Ray stated the traffic order would also aid in snow removal and leaf collection efforts, in addition to greater access for emergency vehicles and school buses.

Approving the traffic order gave the city the authorization to install signs in the area to denote “no parking” areas.
“Once signage is installed, repeated offenders could end up ticketed,” Huff said.

All seven council members in attendance voted to pass the order.

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