Broad Street Redevelopment in Dexter Taking Shape, Public Feedback Still Needed

By Melinda Baird,

What to do with Broad Street in the city of Dexter?  That was the focus of the second in a series of community engagement forums hosted by Norfolk Homes at Dexter’s Creekside Intermediate School.  Teamed with Quinn Evans Architects, the firm sought public feedback February 28 on four design concepts made from its first round of input in January for redevelopment of 3045 Broad Street.

The firm has been given an opportunity by the city to transform, at least on paper, three acres of mostly vacant, city-owned property into a high density, mixed use, pedestrian friendly site that extends the character of downtown while integrating adjacent Mill Creek Park.

But before exploring specific aesthetics of architecture and landscaping for the project, a framework of optimal pedestrian and vehicular connectivity must first be decided.  That task, which was the point of this second forum, requires discerning the best possible function and placement of Broad Street—a main artery traversing the site.

“One of the very fundamental aspects of this project is what to do with Broad Street, and I would say to date we’ve probably invested two to three hundred hours just looking at that particular issue,” Jim Mumby of Quinn Evans Architects said.

Thus far, resident input regarding design has centered around the desire to ease traffic congestion, limit surface parking, promote walkability and keep Mill Creek Park feeling accessible to all.  Maintaining the town’s charm and choosing worthy amenities (such as kayak and bike rental and storage) were also common themes, Mumby said.

With these in mind, Mumley and associates presented a scenario in which Broad Street remains in its existing location, but the street right-of-way is widened to allow for pedestrian traffic. In this scenario, the retail corridor mostly extends along Mill Creek Park, which, Mumby said, lends a lively feel to the park but could detract from its tranquil atmosphere.

The second and third scenarios—heavily favored by those present–shift part of Broad Street slightly east while creating a natural pedestrian connection between the site and Main Street via the intersection of Forest and Broad Streets.  Retail mostly extends along Broad Street in both scenarios, and the slight jog serves to create a pedestrian-friendly transition from retail on site to future commercial along Grand Street.  The major difference between the two scenarios lies in the pedestrian connection; one of which directly accesses the Mill Creek Park trailhead, assuming existing power lines can be removed.

The final scenario presented eliminates Broad Street altogether, making room to continue Jeffords Street along Mill Creek Park trail to Grand Street.  Retail mostly extends along Jeffords Street, which would act as the primary commuter route.  (The three other scenarios use Forest Street as a primary commuter route connecting Main Street to Baker Street.)  Heavy traffic and noise adjacent to the park plus the creation of a dead end at Grand Street were considered disadvantages by some.

Mumby and his associates said they preferred the second and third scenarios because it creates a pedestrian experience that is not linear, or “tunneled,” with walls of retail on each side.  Those present seemed to agree:

“I was originally opposed to moving Broad Street, but now I see I like [the third scenario].  We walk down this pedestrian alley, and basically, we enter an outdoor room.  We arrive somewhere.  It gives me a reason to walk down there,” said one resident.

In addition to Broad Street input, Mumby asked those present to indicate with stickers which amenities they’d like to see at the Mill Creek Park trailhead, such as additional parking, a designated unloading area, bike repair station, play structure, shelter area, picnic area and bathrooms.  He also asked for similar feedback regarding different building aesthetics–ranging from historic to contemporary–for residential condominiums and retail space, particularly adjacent to the park.

Mumby urged the public to attend the third forum, 6 pm on March 14 at Creekside, to discuss height and scale of buildings.

“This is what’s going to greatly affect your skyline,” he said.

Seth Kinker

Reporter/Digital Media for The Sun Times News

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