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In Birmingham, downtown streetscape project raises parking concerns

When clients visit Chris Habbo’s company, Care Mortgage on South Old Woodward, they’re able to pull up outside, park, and walk in to get an application, drop off paperwork and handle other business.

All of that will change this spring when the city begins its $12 million reconstruction project that will reconfigure a half-mile stretch of the downtown street, remove 60 parking spaces and relocate a bus stop that sits on Bowers near Old South Woodward.

“It’s not convenient for the most part,” said Habbo, who has been a tenant of the 555 Building since the fall. “There’s only so much you can do, but I signed up for this. The way it is. … My clients like coming out here. For them to not have the ease of access like would be expected is just kind of a bummer.”

Habbo is among a group of business owners on South Old Woodward concerned about how the loss of public surface parking will impact them when the city begins the reconstruction project the Birmingham City Commission approved last month.

The work is the last part of a three-phase project designed to improve pedestrian safety from Brown to Landon streets and upgrade aging infrastructure downtown.

“In addition to beautification along South Old Woodward, this project provides important safety improvements for motorists and pedestrians, and it ties the south end in with the rest of the downtown area,” said Scott Zielinski, assistant city engineer, in a statement.

According to the city, work begins this week with the removal of trees in the project area and lane closures will begin during the week of May 16. One lane will be maintained for southbound traffic during most of the project, city officials said.

Phase one was the Old Woodward Reconstruction Project in 2018 and phase two was the Maple Road reconstruction project in 2020. The contractor for all phases of the work is Warren-based Angelo Iafrate Construction Co.

The concerns raised in Birmingham mirror some of those from the community in Royal Oak in 2018 during a downtown development project that eliminated 225 surface parking spaces on Williams Street near Royal Oak City Hall. As the downtown project got underway, several Main Street bars and restaurants closed, saying they lost business because customers had nowhere to park.

More communities across the region are considering streetscape improvements to increase walkability for pedestrians by reducing vehicle speeds, said Kevin Vettraino, manager of economic and community vitality for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments. Several commercial corridor projects have taken place in communities including Rochester Hills, Ferndale and Detroit.

The loss of parking can be a concern.

“It’s a balancing or trade-off of priorities,” Vettraino said. “I think in this case the city understands that they may have to give up a few parking spaces or give up the luxury of people having the ability to park right in front of their final destination. … We want to make our place work for everyone, for those that drive, as well as those that walk or bike to have their own space and feel as though it’s a safe space for them, you may need to lose a few parking spaces.

“…We still want to encourage and allow for parking because every car that’s able to park is either is going to stay there and spend some money, which, that’s great,” Vettraino said. “Or maybe it’s a place where that’s where they have to park and they’re visiting someone that lives in an apartment there. I think that’s certainly something our cities, our communities are constantly balancing.”

The city said similar to the first two phases, the South Old Woodward Reconstruction project was prompted by the need to replace water mains and sewer lines. The new streetscape will also add curb bump-outs at each intersection, mid-block crosswalks and raised planter beds.

The project also calls for exposed aggregate concrete, granite bench seating areas, new street lights and improved on-street accessible parking spaces.

Habbo is concerned about the planned move of the bus stop onto South Woodward itself, north of its present location. Moving the bus stop onto the main downtown road and installing the intersection bump-outs will eliminate the 60 spots on South Woodward. He also thinks the area around the relocated bus stop will be congested.

“The only issue I have is the location of the bus stop and the elimination of crucial parking,” Habbo said.

The building has a privately owned, three-level parking garage, but using it instead of parking on the street would take clients much longer to access his business, he said.

“It’s an extra step, extra process,” Habbo said. “People like to come in and out. They want convenience. They want ease.”

City officials said a study shows there will be adequate parking following the streetscape improvements.

The majority of the 60 spots will be eliminated due to Michigan Vehicle Code and Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and other standard safety measures, said city spokeswoman Marianne Gamboa. She said the city reviewed recent meter data for daily business usage of parking spaces in the project area.

Gamboa said the area has 154 parking spaces, with an average usage of 36%. There will be 94 parking spaces following the project, with an expected usage of 60%.

“Our goal for parking space utilization is typically 85% occupancy, so even with the reduced spaces, the overall utilization shows some excess parking capacity will remain,” she said.

Gamboa said the city also considered future development.

Dustin Wenzel, owner of Birmingham Ultimate Fitness in the 555 Building, said he’s concerned about how having fewer parking spots will impact his gym as he tries to return to pre-COVID business levels. There’s also a large empty tenant space in his building as well as a vacant building across the street that would require additional parking once occupied, he said.

“I think the timing of this is poor,” he said. “What happens in the future when the restaurants pick up and when I pick up and I get back to where I was?”

Dan Morrow of Signature Associates, who is the leasing agent for the 555 Building, said he isn’t convinced there would be enough public parking to accommodate future development.

Earlier this week, Morrow pointed out the RH store, formerly known as Restoration Hardware, under construction a couple blocks away and noted plans to redevelop the former Mountain King Chinese Restaurant and Talmer Bank sites for what could be a larger mixed-use building at Hazel Street.

“The immediate needs are being impacted by this reduction,” Morrow said adding he fears the ability to redevelop sites that have older, smaller buildings will be impacted.

“You can imagine if somebody wants to put a 40,000-square-foot or a 30,000-square-foot development in here, what are their parking needs?” he said. “It’s not going to be able to accommodate it. From that perspective, the long-term development of South Old Woodward is going to be impacted.”

Kathy Wilson, a broker owner of Berkshire Hathaway at 880 S. Old Woodward, said she’s not pleased that she’ll lose parking spots in front of her building. She said she wasn’t aware of the plans until three weeks before the city commission met April 11 to approve the project.

“We just merged with another company and we’re inheriting maybe 50 more agents that are going to be working here,” she said. “Our parking lot will be way overflowed and we would have been using the metered parking, street parking. … Our clients come to the front door to get their keys, or drop off …. in the metered parking. That’s going to be gone.”

Wilson said she’s also concerned about the safety of placing the bus stop in front of the 555 Building where Frank and Hazel streets are staggered. “It’s an accident waiting to happen,” she said.

John Gardner, of Gardner+Associates Architects in the 555 Building, echoed concerns about visibility and the bus stop’s proposed location. “There’s a lot going on at that particular intersection,” he said.

Gamboa said the new bus shelter location is safer than the existing location on Bowers Street from a traffic and pedestrian standpoint.

She said a traffic engineer who reviewed the design “noted that the bus shelter is 85 feet from the next crosswalk, providing ample room for loading and unloading.”


Posted By: The Detroit News on May 3, 2022.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

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