The City of Saline’s inability to foresee how a new development and private road would impact a neighborhood has left city council between a rock and a hard place.
The rock, in this case, is represented by the residents of Curtiss Bluffs, a new condominium community off South Monroe Street, tucked behind Oakwood Cemetery and the historic Annin-Peoples House. Their private drive, Curtiss Park Lane, outlets to South Monroe Street. Because of the grade and the on-street parking on Monroe Street, residents say they aren’t safe when the pull into traffic on South Monroe Street.
As a result, the city enacted a traffic order eliminating parking near the intersection on South Monroe Street.
The hard place is represented by the residents of South Monroe Street. The residents there have recently put up with the odors of the wastewater treatment plant, the pollution and blight at the old Kelsey Hayes property, the ever-growing stalled development on what was once city-owned green space at 207 S. Monroe St., and the paving of a former Peoples Park tennis court for a new parking lot. In August, residents learned they were now losing on-street parking to accommodate the new condominium development. Residents who lost parking spaces in front of their homes were upset. Also upset were residents who feared more onstreet parking would get pushed in front of their homes and make it harder to safely pull out of their driveways.
The traffic order eliminating parking spaces on South Monroe Street was approved by Saline City Council at the Aug. 6 meeting after city staff reviewed the concerns of Curtiss Park Bluffs residents. DPW Director Jeff Fordice said city staff consulted the MDOT sign distance guidelines, which say a two-lane road with a speed limit of 25 miles per hour requires 280 feet of sight distance to the right and 240 sight distance to the left.
Coincidentally, Darin McLeskey, owner of the Annin-Peoples House, was in attendance at the Aug. 6 meeting, listening to the discussion about the development at 207 S. Monroe St. He was surprised to hear city council grant a traffic order eliminating the parking in front of his home.
Since then, the issue has caused some consternation at the city council table. Councillor Christen Mitchell said she was disappointed the city did not contact affected residents before issuing the traffic order. Mayor Brian Marl agreed with Mitchell and said he’d consider another motion from council to rectify the issue. Such a motion never came, and several weeks later, Mitchell again expressed displeasure that the city was going forward with the traffic order.
The issue also bubbled over on South Monroe Street, when DPW workers came to install the no parking signs. McLeskey protested and refused to move his vehicles. This brought the police and City Manager Todd Campbell out to the scene. According to McLeskey, Campbell told him he’d bring the issue to council again if he allowed the DPW to install the sign posts without attaching the signs.
At Monday’s meeting, city council was to discuss a potential compromise. Mayor Marl had apparently proposed a compromise, but he wasn’t in attendance.
Instead, council heard from residents who made it clear how hard a compromise would be.
Chuck Lesch, a long-time Saline area resident, recently moved to Curtiss Park Bluffs. It was Lesch who contacted the city with the safety concern. Lesch said he was satisfied with council’s original decision to adopt the traffic order in accordance with MDOT standards. But he recently received a certified letter from the city asking about a compromise that would reduce sightlines in both directions.
“Unless something has recently changed on South Monroe Street, such as a change of the speed limit or change of grade, which I am unaware of, I am confused as to the city is asking the current and future residents of Curtiss Bluffs Lane, as well as our guests and visitors, to compromise our safety,” Lesch said.
Lesch said the traffic control order is based on established safety standards.
“To reduce these standards reduces the safety of my family, friends and everyone who travels on either of these roads. This is an unacceptable risk for the sake of a few on-street parking spaces,” Lesch said.
His wife, Jean, said she’s experience two near-collisions turning on to Monroe Street.
Another resident said he was forced to look underneath cars for oncoming traffic before turning on to Monroe Street.
Several Monroe Street residents say the parking changes will impact their safety as well. Mary Buikema lives on the 200 block of South Monroe Street with her husband and two children. All are drivers. She’s worried parking restrictions will send more parked vehicles to her side of the street.
“We are concerned about all the safety of all the drivers on South Monroe Street, including our new neighbors who we welcome to our neighborhood,” Buikema said. “The parking restrictions proposed increase the parking on our side of the street. We back out of our driveway. Cars parked in front of our home block our vision for backing out. For experienced drivers, it’s a concern. For new drivers, it’s harrowing.”
Buikema asked for some compromise on the sightline restructions.
Jen Harmount also lives on the 200 block of Monroe Street. She stood at the podium with her son. She’s expecting more vehicles in front of her home as a result of the restrictions.
“Is the safety of Curtiss Park Bluffs residents more important than my nine year old, when I have to back out of my driveway?” Harmount said.
She asked if a stop sign might work. She also why asked sightlines weren’t taken into consideration when the project was being built. It was a question also brought up by Kevin Decker.
“How come the developer was not held to account for this before we started? How come we, as a city, didn’t recognize that going in? I feel like we’re all gung ho about this development, but then when there are problems the local citizens have to deal with it, while the developer is free and clear and made all their money,” Decker said.
Jon Coleman lives on the 200 block of Monroe Street. He was blunt in his criticism of the city’s handling of this development.
“You have failed. Government required governance. The fact that there’s no good solution is indicative of the failure of government. There’s been a failure of planning. There’s been a failure of communication. There’s been a failure of enforcement,” Coleman said. “Whatever you do here today will have zero effect on safety. If you put the traffic control in place, traffic speeds will increase because parking works as a traffic calmer.”
Coleman said the only thing that will make the street safer is driver behavior.
Others spoke on both sides of the issue.
Councillor Christen Mitchell thanked the people who came out and agreed that the city had failed residents in this case.
“Mr. Coleman said our government has failed the residents, and I would have to agree. I personally apologize,” Mitchell said.
She said the city needs to take all residents into consideration when making a decision.
It’s unclear if there’s a responsible and safe way to compromise.
Answering a question from Councillor Jack Ceo, who owns a home in Curtiss Bluffs, city attorney Roger Swets said changes to the traffic control order would not be advisable unless they are based on engineering and safety analytics.
Saline Police Chief Jared Hart has been studying traffic on South Monroe Street using on the of department’s “speed signs.” In six days, the speed sign counted 21,091 southbound vehicles. A little fewer than 12,000 vehicles were traveling at the 25 mph speed limit or lower. Almost 9,000 vehicles were traveling 26-34 mph. 174 vehicles were speeding 36-44 mph and four vehicles were going over 45 mph.
On the issue of traffic calming, Councillor Janet Dillon asked why Monroe Street hasn’t been striped. The issue came up when the city talked about on-street parking for little league baseball at Peoples Park.
Mitchell said she was at a municipal conference where they talked about using checklists to make sure issues are addressed in planning. The question was not answered.
Mitchell said she was uncomfortable taking action until she understood how the council’s actions would impact residents on the east side of the street.
Dillon suggested council visit the site to gather more information. Mitchell agreed with that suggestion. It’s unclear if council will visit as a seven-member body or separately.
Mitchell requested no work be done on the traffic order until council makes a decision.
Councillor Heidi McClelland asked if the city should enact the traffic order while studying the issue. She said she feared liability if a crash were to occur while the city was willfully ignoring its own traffic order.
Saline City Council passed a motion to hold the traffic order until its Nov. 19 meeting while further research is being conducted. Council voted 5-1 to pass the measure, with McClelland voting no.
During the second round of public comment, Chuck Lesch said he was disappointed that nearly three months after passing the traffic control order, no action was taken.
“It’s later in the year. Weather is not getting any better. We’ve got three new residents coming who are not used to these sightline issues. I implore you to make a decision at your next meeting. It’s crucial,” Lesch said.