Chelsea DDA Makes Tweaks to Palmer Lot Design, Clarifies Original Intent of Use to Critics

By: Melinda Baird, melindathesuntimesnews@gmail.com 

With an eye toward beginning construction this August, the Chelsea Downtown Development Authority with architectural group M.C. Smith Associates is close to solidifying a final design for the Palmer Lot rehabilitation project.  City Manager John Hanifan presented the latest cost-cutting tweaks to DDA members June 15, bringing the total project cost to roughly $1.14 million.

Hanifan proposed shaving $142,000 off the total cost by swapping nearly 2,600 square feet of concrete with grass, altering the performance stage from elevated to flush, eliminating landscape fencing around the perimeter of the lot (but leaving the existing fence on the south side), and doing away with the ornate but expensive garbage receptacles.  Approximately 21 public parking spaces are anticipated.

“It’s still substantially the same project, and most of the desired elements that we talked about from the beginning remain,” Hanifan said.

Purchased by the DDA for $750,000 in 2013, the 1.25 acres at 222 Main Street was always intended to be used as a community urban park area/public gathering space, Hanifan said.  And, although accommodations for the farmers market and some additional parking have long been part of the original vision, the space was never intended to be used solely in this capacity.  Hanifan’s recap of the project’s history was emphasized after a couple of citizens expressed during public comment their dissatisfaction with the DDA’s intended use and design of the space.

Tom Girard said the DDA has lost sight of the primary reason the entity purchased the lot in the first place, which he believes was to provide supplemental downtown parking as well as a long-term site for the farmers market.

Newly-hired Chelsea Farmers Market Manager Emily Griswold said the DDA’s proposed design doesn’t provide enough parking for customers or space for vendors, and separates vendor booths in a way that prevents flow.  She also questioned the need for public restrooms on the property and expressed safety concerns for customers and vendors crossing M-52 to get to the market.

Mayor Jason Lindauer was one of several at the DDA table to express frustration with the fact major changes to design were being brought forward at the eleventh hour.

“We’ve talked about this for seven years.  We’ve had more meetings than we’ve had birthdays in that time – for all of us combined.  We’ve reduced the project scope by 35% less than the approved funding.  We need to get this project off the ground and move forward – now,” Lindauer said.

The mayor went on to point out that the amount of available parking in the space will never be optimal for all, and that both the city council and DDA have already each approved a resolution issuing $1.5 million in bonds to fund the project.  “To rebid at this point would kick the legs out from under us and we might as well withdraw from the whole project,” he said.

Members did agree to formally request, from Michigan Department of Transportation, a safe crossing mechanism for pedestrians, as well as request from the Zoning Board of Appeals permission to encroach upon a setback for ease of traffic flow.  They’ll also consider slightly reducing the number of trees where vendors will be situated.

The DDA is expected to give its final stamp of approval on the design during its July meeting.

 


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