On a blustery Tuesday evening, about three dozen people braved the weather to attend a Strategic Planning Meeting in the cafeteria at Liberty School. The majority of them were city staff, City Council members and local business owners, but other concerned citizens were also there.
Mayor Brain Marl kicked off the meeting telling the attendees that they were there “to talk about our goals and strategies for the upcoming fiscal year.” Citizens’ concerns would be used by city leaders to set priorities for the year. He then introduced Kelly Petrock of the The LEAD Institute who acted as facilitator of the meeting.
Petrock encouraged the participants to feel free to put forward any kind of need, wish or suggestion regardless of how feasible it seemed. He said to think of it as “unrestrained time.”
He also promoted a judgement-free zone.
“Miss Hess, do you like to be ‘should on’?” Petrock said, addressing Mary Hess.
“Do I like to be what?!” Hess asked.
“Nobody should tell you how to think in this room. Nobody should tell you what your ideas should be. So, keep your buts to yourself and don’t should on anybody,” Petrock said.
The format of the meeting was to divide the people into four groups that would rotate between four stations located in different rooms. At each station a different sort of goal would be considered, although there was some overlap.
Station one was to brainstorm about maintenance and growth of a healthy downtown center, while station two was for community life and health development. Station three was for discussion of infrastructure needs and station four was for finance and economic development.
Before the groups split off to their first stations, they were asked to introduce themselves and talk about how they describe Saline to out-of-towners. They then shared these ideas with the whole assembly.
Among the brief descriptions of Saline were: “nice,” “friendly,” “they do a lot with parades,” “a lot of camaraderie,” “Saline – we are the solution,” “great schools,” “close to Ann Arbor” and “like Ann Arbor with free parking.” (Or “freeish,” as one person commented.)
Each group discussion on each of the four issues lasted about 10 minutes. With every successive group, new points were added to the flip charts.
At the end of the small group meetings the whole assembly came back together again and one of the City Council members summarized the points on their assigned issue. Dean Girbach spoke about a healthy downtown. He listed some of the most discussed ideas for this goal.
The ideas included, development of open spaces such as 147 W. Michigan Ave., creating a new site for the Saline Farmers Market and development of downtown services that would facilitate people living downtown. He also spoke of making the downtown more of a destination and increasing parking, either through street-level options or a parking structure.
Heidi McClelland spoke about community life and health. She said that the biggest issue raised was connectivity.
People wanted leaders to make sure people can get from east to west or north to south without interruptions, e.g. by completing sidewalks, such as, from the bridge to Torwood Subdivision or from Busch’s Market to Emagine Theater.
She also said that people wanted an extended non-motorized vehicle network, for example, by lengthening the library path all the way to Mill Pond Park or beyond. She said that people would like 24-hour lighting at Henne Field.
Janet Dillon spoke about infrastructure needs. Not surprisingly, she said the biggest need was to fix the odor problem at the wastewater treatment plant.
In addition, Dillon spoke of a need for increased downtown parking and better signage for the parking. She also mentioned areas with missing sidewalks, the need for safer crosswalks, and more public transportation options.
In thinking of public transportation, we should not only think of busses she said. Other possibilities should be considered, such as making better use of Uber, use of Zip Cars or bike sharing.
Jack Ceo discussed financial concerns. He emphasized making the best use of infrastructure that is already in place to expand business to the east and west and not just in the main street area.
Specific ideas were to make use of the 147 W. Michigan Ave. property, encourage business diversity and encourage housing diversity, supplying housing for low middle and high income people as well as rental opportunities.
He said people also expressed the need for an in-town hospital or at least an emergency care center. Of course, Saline lost its hospital a few years ago when St. Joseph Health System chose to leave town.
The old hospital building – now owned by Evangelical Homes of Michigan – will be the site of a second planning meeting on Saturday, January 14, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. After Petrock complies the information from Tuesday’s meeting, City Council members and department heads will meet to discuss priorities for the year.
The meeting will be held in the community room and the address is 422 Russell St. The public is invited to attend.