Huntington Woods Residents Demand Connecting Sidewalk to City of Saline

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About a dozen residents of the Huntington Woods subdivisions demanded the city take action to create a long-awaited sidewalk that will connect the south-side neighborhood with the city.

Developer David Shipman broke ground on Huntington Woods subdivision off Macon Road in 2002. Even then, there were plans for a sidewalk to the city. Today, Huntington Woods Phase II is nearly sold out, and Huntington Woods Phase III is set to begin building.

Residents want their sidewalk. They made it plain during public comment at the Aug. 3 city council meeting.

Jeff Weiss implored the city to take over the project.

"We've been working hard to get it built for the last four years but we've been thrown obstacle after obstacle. We recently thought it was about to begin, but now the Washtenaw County Road Commission wants drainage work to be done," Weiss said. "I am asking the city to take over the project from Mr. Shipman."

Deitz Lefort appealed to council to "bridge the gap" and make his neighborhood's "dream a reality."

"We have a very active subdivision, particularly with a high ratio of kids to adults and nearly 100 percent of the kids are out every day," Lefort said. "We need to expand our borders. We need it more now than ever."

One of the kids in the neighborhood is 12-year-old Gillian Hayes. She's part of a youth club that's actively seeking out little things they can do to "save the world." One of those things would be to ride a bike to school from time to time.

"I would really love a sidewalk for my neighborhood and town," Hayes told council.

Dianne Cooper told council that walking to town without a sidewalk is dangerous.

"Drivers do not adhere to the speed limits around that blind curve," Cooper said.

Jessica Lefort told council the city has collected $5.5 million in taxes from Huntington Woods residents since the property was annexed into the city 15 years ago.

"Excuse after excuse as been logged - not from the city, per see, but from the developer, the road commission, the engineering company, the contractor. While the city is not at fault for these delays, the city's failure to make itself a party to these transactions has left it unable to do anything more than hem and haw and offer apologies. But apologies are no longer enough," Lefort said. "With more than double the amount of houses and dozens more children who want to make the walk to the city, it is time for the city to put its money where its mouth is."

Jennifer Steben agreed.

"I'm imploring the city to take over the sidewalk issue once and for all and to start construction immediately," Steben said. "The Monroe Street/Macon Road corridor is not safe to walk or ride bikes. We need to be connected to the city like all of the other neighborhoods and city developments."

Mayor Brian Marl and Saline City Council are keenly aware of the residents' desire. City officials have been party to the sidewalk project, but it's always been the responsibility of Shipman, and it's always been complicated by property owners and jurisdictional matters. Part of the sidewalk will go through the township and is therefore part of the Washtenaw County Road Commission's right of way. There's also the question of liability. Part of the sidewalk would cut through the front of the contaminated Adient (Hoover) property - which raises alarm bells.

Council discussed some of the issues later in the meeting.

Mayor Marl said that four years ago, when city planners approved phase two of Huntington Woods, it was stipulated the developer would build a sidewalk to the city.

"This project, while relatively small in scope, is multi-dimensional and complex," Marl said.

Marl said the goal is to connect two sections of the city that are divided by a peninsula of private homes in Saline Township.

"Suffice it to say, this project has lingered for more than 15 years and as one of the public commenters said tonight, it's time to deliver," Marl said.

Answering a question from Councillor Jim Dell'Orco about why the road commission canceled the sidewalk permits at the 11th hour, Marl said the road commission reviewed the project and found deficiencies with drainage and water. The permit was revoked in December.

The city has agreed to put $40,000 toward the project, Councillor Janet Dillon said. She said the new drainage issues will increase the cost - perhaps beyond what the city can absorb at this point.

Answering a question from Dell'Orco, Marl said Shipman retired when he sold the property for phase three of Huntington Woods.

Marl made the case for the city taking a larger role. He said the sidewalk will serve the current residents of Huntington Woods as well as future residents as homes are built in phases two and three. In addition, Marl expects more growth in the next 10-20 years in that area.

Marl lauded Shipman's projects but said he's not able to execute an agreement to complete a sidewalk.

"Therefore, I do propose the city assume responsibility for the oversight and construction of the sidewalk," Marl said. "At this point, all we have the power to do is advocate, support and encourage. We don't have the ability to actually construct a sidewalk and I think we have the means to do so."

Marl proposed allowed city staff, himself and attorneys to engage with Shipman to develop a settlement agreement which would see Shipman relinquish control of the sidewalk and contribute money to the project. Marl said he'd broached the subject with Shipman, who he said was amenable to the idea.

Dillon said she wasn't comfortable with the idea of disturbing the Adient property. She suggested perhaps building on the east side of Monroe Street, or perhaps routing a sidewalk through the back and into Curtiss Park.

Marl said the idea of transferring the sidewalk to the east side of the street was explored and would not reduce costs.

Councillor Christen Mitchell said she wanted to see the project revised from scratch. She said the city doesn't have all the bids and documentation for such a project. 

"I don't know if the residents understand that if the city takes it on, it's going to take a lot of time, because we will want to do things like look at the alternatives," Mitchell said.

Marl said he thought one a settlement agreement was approved, a project could be executed in the not-to-distant future.

Mitchell disagreed.

"Well, that's your opinion. I think part of the issue is that you have been talking to residents without the whole body (council). When (residents) talk about promises, at no time has council promised anything other than money," Mitchell said. "I'm willing to do it. It needs to be done. We cannot just rush forward with everything we have in place."

Marl said any deal struck with Shipman would have to be approved by council.

Marl and city officials will talk to Shipman about a potential agreement.

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