News

0 271

Community Conversations: Ferndale Library interviews State Rep Robert Wittenberg
– Jeff Milo 

Public Libraries are evolving, as you might have heard…

But all libraries, even ours, still struggle to demonstrate our progression and our continued vitality to every member of the communities we serve.

State Representative Robert Wittenberg noticed this even before he was elected to the House in 2016, and that’s why he makes a concerted effort to host Community Conversations inside the libraries of the 27th District, including Ferndale and Hazel Park.

“I want (these Community Conversations) to bring people in (to the library) that might not be aware of it or haven’t visited one in forever, so that they can see how they’ve changed and grown.” Wittenberg said.

Wittenberg will be at the Hazel Park Memorial Library on Fri., June 15 and then visit the Ferndale Area District Library on Mon., June 18. These free events are Wittenberg’s way of “reporting back” about the policies and bills being debated and developed in Lansing and how they might impact life for residents of his District.

“I want to be as accessible as possible,” says Wittenberg, “so I host these Community Conversations to create more awareness and get more people in to (the library)…,” he said, reiterating that “…libraries are a very important and valuable resource (for the community).”

Designed to be smaller scale, informal town hall meetings, the prevalence and frequency of State Representatives like Wittenberg utilizing “community conversations” increased notably over the last 10 years; Wittenberg has proven himself eager to host as many as possible.

And libraries are optimal locations for these events because they’ve evolved into 21st century community centers, with multifaceted resources and access capabilities. Libraries increasingly see their role and the services they provide expanding to include not just literacy, but computer literacy: this would entail helping patrons navigate computer software, attain a comfort with keyboards, mouses, and other programs…

But what’s just beginning to rise in importance is a discussion about media literacy—which concerns everyone’s ability to effectively analyze and evaluate the media (news, information) we’re encountering on a daily basis—primarily online. Last January, the Ferndale Library partnered with WDET-FM (101.9, Detroit’s public radio station), to co-host a panel discussion about media literacy. It’s all about communication–something Wittenberg is sensitive towards…

“I think social media has definitely changed how people interact with their legislators,”  said Wittenberg, in considering not just media literacy, but the rapid spread of social media’s impact on our daily lives. And when it comes to politics, “(Social Media)’s predominantly how people become aware of what’s going on…”

“It’s tough this day and age to be a good legislator without some social media presence,” Wittenberg admitted. “Although it’s not the most important thing, it’s still definitely of a piece with the whole picture, because people want to know what’s going on (in Lansing), and that’s especially true, now, after the 2016 election, I can tell you; more people are engaged in the political process than ever before, at least in my lifetime.”

The Ferndale Library’s previous media literacy discussion primarily addressed what Wittenberg already mentioned–that a lot of people get their news through Facebook or Twitter. That’s something Wittenberg is sensitive about during Q&A sessions with voters. “The reality of there being articles out there that are false,” he said, “or that there are articles that are acutlaly opinions but still presented as or assumed to be factual; there isn’t always enough critical scrutinizing or fact checking that needs to be there and that leads people into echo chambers, where they’re listening to, or reading only things that they already agree with.”

Wittenberg said that at these Community Conversations, he’ll occasionally encounter someone upset by something they read on social media, something that may be a strain of ‘fake news.’ That’s where the in-person conversations can alleviate. “It’s an interesting world, right now, that we’re in, with social media, and it’s obviously still new to for legislators, specifically, and the world of politics and government. I think we’re still trying to figure it out. It’s changed fast. Technology in general changes fast and will keep changing.”

The core of Wittenberg’s Community Conversations concerns engagement. These events are opportunities for us to log-off, as it were, to put our devices down and engage with legislators like Wittenberg in person, (or, as Internet slang would put it, “IRL” for “in real life!”)  Even though the Internet aids in communication, Wittenberg said, it’s still not as impactful as being in person, being accessible, and having a civil conversation.

“You can get backlash (over social media),” Wittenberg said, when it comes to a post that lays out a representative’s position on a certain issue. “I do read everyone’s opinions because I want to know all sides of an issue, to then can see whether I need to evolve on something. But what’s most important is to utilize and absorb these opinions and suggestions from the people who live in the 27th district. So I do some thinking ahead of time before posting anything. I’ve seen horrible comments in online threads and it just makes me realize that some people aren’t interested in actually having a dialogue on a topic. Not everything I’m going to do is 100% supported by everyone, but I hope it spurs discussion. You can have civil dialogue on issues, and that’s what I hope to do.”

Wittenberg’s mother is a lifelong educator, teaching 3rd grade, and he credits her, his family, and his upbringing for influencing that inclination toward promoting civility and building consensus. “This is a relationship business,” he said. “If there are more than 90,000 people in the district, that mean’s not every one of them is a Democrat, and not everyone believes everything that the Democratic Party says is necessarily right–it’s a spectrum. So we have to do the best we can to have conversations and reach across the aisle.”

Wittenberg is currently working to prioritize the consideration of our senior citizens, and that extends not only to financial security, but to media literacy as well. “These are people who have worked their entire lives and worked hard.” Wittenberg’s platform emphasizes an assurance of a quality of life for seniors. “But then you hear of senior citizens who are really vulnerable online, they’re getting exploited by scams over email or their cellphone.” Media literacy is a concern for all generations, then.

Wittenberg is also working particularly hard on education issues in Lansing, addressing class size, pushing for universal pre-school and actively visiting schools in the district during events like National Reading Month to read to students and promote literacy. “The foundation of it all …is literacy,” Wittenberg said. “You can’t be media literate if you’re not literate to start with. So the foundation is making sure kids are able to read and able to learn at a very young age, and then obviously grow to love to read.” A library is the perfect place to have these conversations, first and foremost because “… it’s a place full of books!”

“But libraries have also progressed,” Wittenberg concluded. “It’s a community center, really! That’s why I host as many Community Conversations at libraries as I can, because it’s a valuable resource that everyone needs to know about.”

Community Conversations
with State Representative Robert Wittenberg
*Fri. June 15
Hazel Park Memorial Library
11am
123 E 9 Mile
**
*Mon. June 18
Ferndale Area District Library
6:30pm
222 E 9 Mile Rd

Photos By: John Rivard, David Ryals & Bernie Laframboise

ON SATURDAY, MARCH 31ST, FERNDALE HOSTED OUR OWN MARCH FOR OUR LIVES EVENT. It was organized and headed by Progressive Youth Assembly and Mya Riccardi, a local activist and Wayne State University student. Despite inclement weather, the event brought dozens of activists out to march down 9 Mile from Affirmations to Geary Park. Most notable among the attendees were Mayor David Coulter and State Representative Robert Wittenberg.

The theme of the march was “Where Do We Go From Here?” and it focused on the change people can make as citizens in the wake of the recent mass-shooting tragedies now tragically commonplace in America. Riccardi sat down with Ferndale Friends for an exclusive interview about the event and the effect it had.

When asked what made her decide to lead the march Mya said, “The march is being led by four students: myself, Nolan Handyside, Sarah O’Donnell and Alex Lawrence. We created this march because we believe that there needs to be more effective gun laws put into place in our country.

All four of us have lived in Ferndale our whole lives. We feel so lucky to live in this accepting and progressive city, and we have learned that this is a great place to stimulate change. The residents of Ferndale have shown unwavering support to its youth and students in the past, something that cannot always be said about other cities. So, by planning this march, we are not only doing it for ourselves but rather for the students elsewhere in the country who are not as encouraged to have a voice on this matter.”

“The four of us were a part of a group called Progressive Youth Assembly last year. The group died out over the Summer, but about a month before the shooting in Parkland, Florida we had actually discussed trying to get the group back together. Then one afternoon, about a week after the Parkland shooting, Sarah and Alex got this seemingly crazy idea to plan a march, and asked Nolan and I if we would be interested in joining them with the planning.”

Along with planning came a set of goals. Riccardi said, “Our aim was to bring more awareness to the subject, and to educate others on what they can do to keep our efforts going.

We want people to know this is not something we are going to forget. Also, we purposely held this march a week later than the national march (March 24th) because we wanted to theme it Where Do We Go From Here? We had multiple tables set up including Ferndale Democrats, Mothering Justice, and Mothers Demand Gun Sense in America. We also had a voter registration table. We wanted to show residents what they could do after the march to continue our efforts to create more effective gun laws.”

In regards to the future, Riccardi said, “As of right now our group is going to focus on gaining more members and being more involved with the community of Ferndale. We plan to recruit more high school students, in hopes that they bring in fresh ideas for future events. With each event we hold, we hope to further educate people on what they can do to make their voices heard.”

The national wave of March For Our Lives events was a titanic success. The future looks bright for sensible gun-law changes because of efforts made by moral and conscientious citizens. To quote the poet and rock star Patti Smith: “People have the power to wrestle the earth from fools. It’s decreed the people rule. We have the power.”

By Sara E. Teller

THERE WERE SEVERAL SCHOOL THREATS MADE IN MICHIGAN IN THE WEEKS FOLLOWING THE ATTACK AT MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL IN PARKLAND, FLORIDA. Nineteen-year-old Nickolas Cruz, who had been expelled from the district, opened fire and ended the lives of seventeen people.

A good many of the threats administrators have witnessed in Michigan’s schools are taking place in and around the Ferndale area, and some feel these issues are more prevalent than ever before.

“I don’t know if they are becoming more prevalent, or we’re just more aware of them,” said Bill Good, Director of School Communications and Pupil Services for the Ferndale School District. “Everyone may just be on pins and needles following the Florida attack, and perhaps we’re more sensitive to them. As a father myself, I know I’m worried.”

Good said Ferndale school officials met with the City’s Chief of Police, Timothy Collins, following the Florida shooting to review current school safety policies in Ferndale specifically and make adjustments where needed. One of the topics regarding the Florida shooting which has gained nationwide attention is the voluntary resignation of school resource officer Deputy Scot Peterson. Peterson was armed and ready at the high school but admitted to failing to take action to prevent Cruz from opening fire. “Our school resource officer and Chief Collins met to discuss what lessons could be learned from the attacks, and to review training procedures and drills,” Good said. “Our resource officer is stationed at the school at all times and is prepared to respond if needed.”

Good was reluctant to talk about specific action items that came out of the meeting with law enforcement due to concerns that sensitive information would be put into the wrong hands. “We don’t want to give anyone thinking of doing something this horrific the playbook. There are a lot of things we do behind the scenes, and we’re asking the community to trust us. I realize that’s asking a lot, but they need to know they can put their trust in us.”

GOOD ACKNOWLEDGED THAT THERE SEEMS to have been a notable uptick in threats following the Marjory Stoneman incident, and he mentioned that a number of area schools received what administrators refer to as “nonspecific anonymous threats” around the same time, including those in Warren, Detroit, Ferndale, and Oak Park, among others. “We recently received such a threat and there were many others in the area that experienced something similar. Unfortunately, we cannot release the details,” he said.

There were a record number of threats in general reported in the state’s schools during the month of February, with a total of 670 reports made – some credible, some not. Law enforcement works closely with the schools to investigate every threat made in order to determine the level of severity and whether to pursue criminal charges against those responsible.

“There is certainly an undercurrent going on,” Good said of concerns regarding gun violence and promoting public awareness. “However, it is my understanding that there tends to be an uptick in threats immediately following a well-publicized incident. Then they subside. It’s pattern-like.”

A number of public forums regarding gun violence and the promotion of school safety have popped up in and around the Metro Detroit area. State representatives, congressional leaders, teachers, law enforcement officials, gun safety activists, parents, and students are all meeting to talk through their concerns at these forums, which are primarily designed to better educate the public.

Recently, State Representative Robert Wittenberg conducted such an event in coordination with Moms Demand Action.

“It’s all about creating an open dialogue centered around what we’re seeing and what we can do about it,” Good said. “And, it’s important that we get the message out there – if you see something, say something. There are a number of things we’re prepared to do to address potential threats, but we can’t do anything if we don’t know about them.”

Good added of the response the district has received from residents, “We really appreciate the continued support we’ve received from our parents with students in Ferndale schools, and are impressed with the passion the community has shown for ensuring safety and security in our schools.” His mission is to reassure parents and students that Ferndale is taking this very seriously, and that the district has put precautionary measures into place to safeguard against any violence. “We share as much information as we can as quickly as we can, and we are doing everything possible to eliminate threats.”

Any safety concerns in Ferndale schools should be immediately reported to the administrative office at 248.586.8652. Bill Good can be reached directly at 248.586.8672 or bill.good@ferndaleschools.org.

Story By: Sara E. Teller | Photos By: Bernie Laframboise

PINECREST HOLDINGS LLC IS PROPOSING A TWO-PHASE DEVELOPMENT AT 1600 W. 8 MILE RD, 8 MILE AND PINECREST, DIRECTLY SOUTH OF FERNDALE HIGH SCHOOL.

The first phase will include residential homes, while the second is still up in the air. The City has indicated, “The remaining acreage of the site, for which a formal proposal has not been developed, is proposed for a mixed-use configuration, generally meaning multiple buildings with an assortment of commercial, residential, and even potentially light industrial uses, mixed with public space and open space.”

This site has been vacant for several years. “The current owners, who purchased the property after demolition on site had occurred, explored possibilities for the site by engaging the Ferndale Public Schools District and current and former city staff, as well as reviewing the city’s Master Plan,” explained Jordan Twardy, City of Ferndale’s Community and Economic Development Director. “While the details of the project are still being finalized in response to community input, the current proposal calls for developing a 20-acre portion of the site which is roughly the portion from the border with Ferndale High School going south almost to Marie Street.”

The community input, which Twardy alluded to, hasn’t been all that positive. One of the primary concerns voiced by residents is the elimination of green space in favor of increasing Ferndale’s population density. According to the Master Plan, “a community-wide survey generated a lot of ideas for strengthening the connection between people and Ferndale’s open spaces, especially diversifying the programs offered through the Recreation Department, focusing on natural landscapes, and increasing the urban tree canopy throughout the city.” In other words, Ferndale residents prefer to preserve the city’s ‘green’ legacy. However, the expansive development would directly counter this goal.

“I got involved in the Pinecrest Holdings Development issue when I was part of a conversation with Councilman Dan Martin who was talking with a citizen during the first meeting of the relaunch of the Ferndale Area Democrats at the Loving Touch in March,” said Dave Cottrill. “In the conversation, I learned about the potential clear-cutting of the forest just south of Ferndale High School for a housing development.”

Cottrill added, “I contacted a friend who lives near the high school. She informed me of some of the issues of soil contamination, tree clear-cutting, moving chemical plume from the Ethyl site, and increased traffic. The amount of traffic speeding through our neighborhoods has been a concern of mine. Also, the Ferndale Rat Patrol is not in favor of new slab construction since rats like to live underneath concrete slabs.” Residents are also concerned about the plan for individual lots to be only 35 feet wide.

Twardy is eager to point out: “As long as the developers continue to pursue a PUD designation for this site, the City will work to ensure that as many trees as possible are preserved. A large determinant of this will be the requirements laid out by MDEQ for site remediation, but we are making accessible green, open space a priority for this project.

He said, “The proposed project calls for 70 single-family homes and 27 multi-family homes, as well as two clusters of publicly-accessible, preserved old-growth trees; and a greenway connector running along Pinecrest from the High School south, all the way to 8 Mile Road. The greenway is located within the privately-owned property but would be provided as a publicly accessible benefit.” Yet, many feel that replacing large trees which have been on the property for hundreds of years with an allotted percentage of smaller ones is not an acceptable solution.

RESIDENTS ARE ALSO CONCERNED THAT A LARGE NUMBER of new homes will mean increased traffic in an already congested area, and that there won’t be enough school space for families with children, especially since three of Ferndale’s schools were eliminated in recent years in favor of similar developments.

What’s more, the complex will eliminate Ferndale’s last site of relatively expansive open space and crowd out the neighboring high school.

The proposed single-family homes, which are set to start around $300,000, would have front porches and garages in the rear, either attached or detached. In addition, 19 townhouse-style homes would feature rear-entry two-car attached garages, and eight affordable, attached ranch-style homes would each feature 1,200 square feet of living space and two-car attached rear garages.

Ferndale resident Al Benchich said he and his neighbors are far less concerned with the specifics of home styles than they are about having homes constructed on this open space. “The present concern of residents is not the style of the homes. It’s that this is the last major piece of vacant property left in Ferndale,” he said.

With regard to the school situation, Twardy said, “The development as currently proposed will enable both new residents to come to the city as well as, potentially, existing residents to have the option of upgrading or downsizing into a newer home, as the project will have different sizes and types of housing available. This could certainly mean additional students for Ferndale Public Schools. [The school system] has told us that they have existing capacity to service the current population of students as well as any new students that come into the schools from this project.”

What is notably missing from the style specifics, however, if they must be discussed, are basements. The homes will sit instead on crawl spaces, and many believe there is a good reason for this. The site, formerly occupied by Hayes Lemmerz, an automotive wheel manufacturer, and chemical supplier Ethyl Corp., is largely contaminated with arsenic, lead, mercury, and other concerning chemicals. It is, therefore, what is commonly referred to as ‘brownfield.’ City policy encourages developers to achieve site plan approval from the Planning Commission before applying for incentives, such as a brownfield tax credit to off-set the rumored one-million-dollar cost of clearing out the contamination. Many wonder if the decision to eliminate basements stems from a fear of digging too deep and uncovering a need for an even pricier clean-up effort.

Residents have expressed the belief that tax incentives associated with drawing new business to the area is a primary driver for the project. Twardy commented: “We believe it will have a positive effect for employers, who view quality-of-life amenities and available housing as critical assets for recruiting and retaining talent to work in their companies. This project will also result in the significant benefit of cleaning up a highly contaminated piece of property, improving the environment for the surrounding neighborhood.”

PINECREST HOLDINGS LLC is pursuing Planned Unit Development approval for the site, and the current Master Plan specifically references the location as one for which approval might be sought. The plan reads, “The Hayes Lemmerz site is envisioned as a comprehensive mixed-use development, and its large size and adjacent uses present the opportunity to offer a range of potential uses, including light industrial, office, commercial, healthcare, recreation, and residential. A rezoning or use of a Planned Unit Development (PUD) may need to occur to accommodate the vision for future development.”

The plan goes on to suggest, “Redevelopment should also be cognizant of the existing site features, including mature tree stands that should be preserved as much as possible. With regard to Ferndale’s sustainability goals, this site should, at minimum, incorporate modern environmental standards for buildings, site design, and infrastructure and demonstrate a balance of densities, urban design features, and mitigation. Of course, sustainable design that goes beyond minimal standards is encouraged.” This has led residents to question what, if anything, is being incorporated into the current plans that would constitute as incorporating sustainability.

“PUD allows for projects that are innovative to go around zoning,” Benchich explained. With this in mind, one might expect green-oriented homes, perhaps with alternative energy resources, or an out-of-the-box development that would focus primarily on improving Ferndale’s community.

“There are these small homes somewhere out west where a whole community was constructed for homeless people, a sort of cottage industry, in which these residents can live and sell things, earn a living. That would be cool,” Benchich said. Why is the developer pursuing PUD approval rather than zoning the development as residential?

The City’s response, according to Twardy: “The entire site currently has two zoning classes; approximately ten acres of the site is residential, with the remainder industrial. The developers are pursuing Planned Unit Development approval for the site, which allows more flexibility in exchange for demonstrated public benefit. In this case, those benefits include the preservation of old growth trees and public greenway. Under traditional zoning, we cannot require those public benefits (though we do require the planting of new trees). As such, alternatives for the property as it is currently zoned might include ten acres of single-family residential, with the remainder of the site being developed as industrial, and without the ability to require public benefits on the property.”

The City also insists the project improves Ferndale’s overall landscape and increases neighboring home values solely for the fact that the area will be remediated. “Because the site is currently vacant and contaminated, the proposed improvements are likely to significantly improve the value of the project site, whose value affects the value of all the properties surrounding it. The 8 Mile corridor in particular has long suffered from negative perception issues that negatively affected home values near it, and we believe this project will significantly counter that issue,” explained Twardy.

THERE IS TALK, OF COURSE, OF INADEQUATE PARKING, especially with the proposed mixed-use development apparently stalled. Again, the City insists it is soliciting the public’s feedback. “The project as proposed provides the required amount of parking on site, which is adequate for residents and visitors. This requirement will be met even with any changes that are made to the project in response to public feedback,” said Twardy.

However, Benchich and his partner live approximately a quarter mile from the development site and they didn’t notice any apparent attempt to notify the public that meetings regarding the project were underway. “Ferndale is supposed to be a progressive town, one that really values public input. We found out about this by accident. Even the paper that the City puts out had no information,” Benchich said.

Twardy countered, “We have conducted direct mailings and email outreach to residents to disseminate information and will continue to do so. Addition-ally, by April 1, all environmental information we have on the site, as well as relevant contact information for questions, [was] made available on the city website and hard copies in the Ferndale Public Library. We will be posting project documents and updates online – in addition to mailings and emails to residents – at the City web site (click on a green button labeled “Current & Upcoming Projects”). To stay informed, please watch for official mailings and emails, and check the City web site. You can also reach out to Environmental Sustainability Planner Erin Quetell at equetell@ferndalemi.gov with any questions or concerns.”

As this tale unfolds, residents are also questioning whether the site constitutes as historic, given that the foundation of an earlier building left over from the “Ridge Road” days is still present on the land. This adds yet another level of complexity to the already growing list of public comment. Plans are moving forward, however, while the developer and City staff allegedly continue to consider the community’s input. Twardy said, “The major discussion points to date have focused on a need to understand the environmental conditions of the site and how those will be addressed; density, parking and traffic; the future of the southern portion of the site; and the importance of preserving as many old growth trees as possible. Each of these, and other concerns, are being addressed as the plan is modified and finalized in direct response to public input.”

TINA CO’S CUSTOMERS KNEW HER AND HER RESTAURANT WELL – almost as well as Co knew her customers. “If you came in and ordered the same thing at least twice, Tina knew your order,” said long-time friend Michael Mode. “And, then she would come up with a nickname for you.”

Co’s creation, China Ruby, was a quaint eatery located on W. 9 Mile with larger-than-life reviews from area residents and food critics alike. “I absolutely adored China Ruby, and Tina ran an amazing business,” said area resident Eddie Mulak. “The food and hospitality were fantastic. China Ruby will always hold a special place in my heart and memories.”

Mode worked two doors down when the restaurant’s doors opened for business 30 years ago, and he waltzed over to check it out. “…First met Tina back in 1988 on the day she opened China Ruby with Ken,” he said, referencing China Ruby’s long-time chef. “I worked two doors down at Romig Magic Shop, and we quickly became friends.” Many other Ferndalians followed his lead, heading over to check out what Mode affectionately called “this five-star hole in the wall” the day it opened, and before long a legend was born.

“It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I’ve eaten [there] a thousand times over the last 30 years. It was the best Chinese food, as the countless regulars would attest,” Mode said. “On the counter there would always be stacks of plastic bags. Carry outs. People dined there, and it had a huge carry-out business, too.” He even directed a famous customer of his to China Ruby for lunch. “Isaiah Thomas, the Pistons player, came into our store one day – he was a regular at the magic shop – and asked where he could grab a quick lunch,” Mode said. “I told him to check out China Ruby. Twenty-some years later, a friend of mine came to visit and we were going to go eat there. I told him about Isaiah Thomas and he didn’t believe me. We walked in and there he was, having dinner. He had become a regular just like everyone else.”

ASKED WHAT FERNDALIANS WOULD MISS MOST ABOUT CHINA RUBY now that it’s closed its doors, Mode said, “They’ll miss the restaurant, but I think the bigger loss is Tina. She had a photograph of her and Al Gore on the wall. She had one with Isaiah Thomas. She was just so friendly. Tina was one of those rare gems who treated customers like they were family. Everybody loved Tina.”

When Co first got the news she had cancer, Mode said, “She didn’t tell anyone. She didn’t talk about having cancer. It was truly a testament to the type of person she was. She didn’t want anyone to worry. And, she ran the restaurant until right before she passed, when she simply couldn’t any longer.”

Tina’s life outside of her restaurant was equally as exciting. She was always on the go. “She loved to go to the casino, and her favorite game was black jack,” Mode said. “She also loved to attend rock concerts and loved rocker fashion.”

Ferndale’s loss will be significant. “Tina was a great ambassador for the city and a great friend to people who came there. China Ruby brought in customers from all over the place,” Mode said. “I’ve eaten all over the world, and it had the best Chinese food, hands down. It was a destination restaurant. Some people who had been gone from the area for years would come back to visit whenever they were in town.”

Tina leaves behind her partner of 22 years, the famous sports writer Mike O’Hara. The location of the former China Ruby restaurant was recently sold, and a Middle Eastern restaurant is expected to open in its place in the near future.

Story By Ingrid Sjostrand | Photo By Bernie Laframboise

WHEN WARMER WEATHER APPROACHES, also with it comes the many orange barrels and road closings of looming construction. One such project expected to cause some disruption this summer season is the resurfacing of Livernois St., and it has many business owners concerned.

The construction is currently slated for June 1st through November 10th and, while its main purpose is repairing and resurfacing road conditions, plans are also set to incorporate protected bike lanes, improve pedestrian crossings and move bike racks. Justin Lyons, planning manager for the City of Ferndale, explains:

“The overall project area includes Livernois from W. 9 Mile to 8 Mile Road. The intersection at W. 9 Mile and Livernois will be improved with a new mast arm traffic signal (similar to the signals at Pinecrest, Bermuda, etc.) and a public plaza,” Lyons says. “A small amount of striping work will also be completed on the Detroit side of the Livernois/Eight Mile intersection.”

The long length of the project is intended to avoid closing the entire stretch of road at once.

“Construction efforts will be staggered/phased so that only one section is being fully disrupted at any given time, which is why the construction period lasts until November,” he says. “There will always be a minimum of one lane open in each direction on Livernois.”

FREQUENTLY REFERRED TO AS THE “UP-AND-COMING” area of Ferndale, Livernois is a street with a variety of light industrial businesses and a growing retail and restaurant presence. Siouxsan Miller, co-owner of Green Daffodil located at 624 Livernois, has run her retail storefront since 2009 and knows the area well.

“We are windows on the world for what goes on there on a daily basis. For a long time we have been the only business with an actual open sign, so we talk with a lot of business owners and folks who live in the area,” Miller says. “We have lots of thoughts and concerns about the proposed street project and the time frame that it might occur.”

These concerns include available parking during construction, the length of the project and if these changes are even necessary. Many of these sentiments are mirrored by other business owners like Je Donna Dinges, who moved her women’s clothing store Margaux & Max to 561 Livernois in September of 2016, and Dan Riley of Axle Brewing, which opened at 567 Livernois in June 2017.

Riley is most concerned about the availability of parking since his brewery and biergarten can accommodate over 150 people and summer will be their busiest season.

“If all street parking on Livernois is impacted for the duration of the project, as opposed to in phases, it will definitely have a major impact on our business during our important summer season.” Riley says. “We are the only hospitality business on the street and one of a few open to customers relying on street parking.”

Dinges echoes these fears, and hopes the City will provide some solutions, “There are already parking issues on Livernois due to the limited number of parking spaces. How will the city ensure that customers can reasonably get to the businesses on Livernois?”

THE MOST RESOUNDING FRUSTRATION was the lack of information available and communicated with businesses. Dinges didn’t even hear of the project until talking to other businesses and never heard back after reaching out to City officials.

“That was two weeks ago, and I have not heard one word,” she says. “The City needs to communicate with the businesses impacted by this construction every step of the way.”

“We really don’t want overkill done to our area, but we do want things done that make sense to the area’s real needs and would like to have a voice,” Miller says. “We are all small, professional business owners who need to know what type of construction might go on this year. We need the ability to plan and make changes to our business models to be able to weather construction pains.”

Lyons says the City has presented plans for the project at City Council meetings. He hopes to remedy much of the concern through an information and question-and-answer session scheduled for Thursday April 26th at the Gerry Kulick Community Center, and they have already started brainstorming solutions to many of the problems, including parking.

“More information will be provided at the April meeting, but the City is exploring options to help provide temporary parking solutions, including providing off-street spaces at the Kulick Community Center, wayfinding signage, and rideshare promotions.”

Lyons says many factors went into the timing of this project including the City’s Master Plan and the recently passed Road Improvement Bond, but the main reason is due to Federal funding that expires at the end of 2018.

“Construction is never easy for small businesses and homeowners, but the end result will make Livernois a greatly improved street for all users. Livernois is a key corridor for the entire city, and already has a number of great small businesses, artists, and long-time residents that has grown and changed over the years.” Lyons says. “This investment by the City (with federal funds) demonstrates a commitment to the corridor with a street design that encourages people to visit Livernois by multiple modes of transportation and continue to be a walkable district.”

More information and updates about the Livernois resurfacing project can be found at ferndalemoves.com/project/livernois-street.

Story & Photos By: Jon Szerlag

WITH A DESIRE TO GIVE BACK TO THE COMMUNITY, and the State of Michigan, one local resident has taken her passion for mysteries and puzzles to try to give unidentified remains in Michigan their name back, and possibly bring closure for their family.

Leslie Merritt recently started a group that meets in person to go online and perform research of unidentified remains in Michigan, and try to match them with missing persons in the state. “I want to give peace to families,” said Merritt. “I want them to not have to think every day of their lives if their (family member) is alive and out there.”

Merritt started by going to the web site www.NamUs.gov which lists missing people and information regarding unidentified remains. There are thousands of missing people and unidentified people throughout the United States, and Merritt focuses on only ones that are missing in Michigan, and in the Metro area if possible. She also likes to look at older cases.

The family and friends of those missing are never contacted while poring over the databases and doing other research. But if Merritt believes that she has a good case for a match, she will reach out to the detectives working the case and provide the information to see if they believe it should be followed up or not.

OE OF THE FIRST CASES MERRITT WORKED ON was the remains of an unidentified woman from the late 1980s. She went through all the minute details of the information provided and thought she had a good match. She also reached out to a forum, WebSleuths.com, to have them look over her investigation.

The detective working the case told Merritt that they checked the dental records of the woman she thought was a match, but they were not the same person. But it was going through these cases and having discussions on associated forums that made Merritt want to start a group.

“Whenever I would do a case, I would post on Web Sleuth so other people could take a look at it before I would send it to the police,” said Merritt. “That is why I thought a group would be a good idea, to have a lot of eyes looking at it.”

Merritt asked people on her personal Facebook if anyone would be interested. She did not get a response, so she decided to try Ferndale Forum. The response was much more than she was expecting.

“I was thinking it would only be a few people, but a ton of people were interested,” said Merritt, whose Facebook group has 85 members already. “It is really amazing with all the people who are here and their replies. They were really excited about it.”

NOW THE GROUP MEETS IN PERSON to go over cases and bounce ideas off one another. Merritt also has her own method, which involves a spreadsheet she created to help find similarities between the missing and unidentified persons.

“The whole point is to exclude the missing from the unidentified,” said Merritt. “If there is anything that is big that excludes the person, then you are done and have to go on to the next.”

Which can be hard, when dealing with missing people and after getting personally invested in the case. “It can be hard to give up because it definitely becomes personal,” said Merritt. “When you are really focused on a case, you really get to know the missing or unidentified person. I really felt like I was the voice for that girl (her first case), and I feel like I let her down. And there are no other leads in that case.”

Merritt remembered her first case where she thought she found a match, and how she started to wonder how no one could be looking for this person, or if the missing person was from another state or even Canada.

“I just want to bring peace to people, and I want to be the one who helps do that and solve that mystery,” said Merritt. “There are a ton of people that are identified, and it is hard to make sense of it because there are all of these missing people, as well. There have to be matches.”

The Facebook group is currently called The Ferndale Cold Case Group, and people can visit www.NamUs.gov to view cases of missing and unidentified people.

Nineteen people showed up for the first group meeting in Ferndale to look over a case involving the remains of an African American man found in the Detroit River in Ecorse, Michigan in 2014.

By Jennifer Goeddeke

RELAY FOR LIFE IS A NONPROFIT, WORLDWIDE ORGANIZATION set up to benefit the American Cancer Society (ACS). This event is a celebration of the lives of people battling cancer, and also a remembrance of lost loved ones. It began in 1985 with Dr. Gordy Klatt, a surgeon from WA who walked and ran around a track for 24 hours to raise money for the ACS.

Since that time, the event has grown into the world’s largest movement to end this prevalent and relentless disease. The Relay for Life mission statement is to “Celebrate those who have won the battle against cancer, remember those we have lost, and fight back through research and early detection.”

Every year, teams of people literally camp out at local schools, fairgrounds or parks, and the participants take turns in walking or running around a path/track. The atmosphere is family-friendly and upbeat. Be-cause “cancer does not sleep,” these events always run overnight.

Founders of the Ferndale area event, in 2007, were Jackie Koivu, and Beth Collins from ACS. Then in 2008, Michele Sibula – a lifelong Ferndalian – was asked to help, and she accepted the challenge.

I recently took the opportunity to talk with Sibula, who has been successfully running the Relay for Life events in the Ferndale ar-ea for almost a decade. During that time-span, over $460,000 has been raised for the ACS! Sibula’s personal mission is “to have a world where no one dies from cancer.”

Sadly, Sibula explained, the total donations are down this year, so the main Relay for Life event is not running. (The organization will be changing its name soon to: “Ferndale Area Fights Cancer.”) Sibula added, “it’s important for us to evolve with the times and to stick with what works.”

Meanwhile, the current team of volunteers is led by Sibula, and she is assisted primarily by Tammy Dengate and Sonia Ross. They continue to work hard on smaller fundraising events to benefit the ACS. They just raised $3,000 through a drag queen bingo event at the Royal Oak’s Elk Club in March. Previous popular events have included a “Pizza Palooza” at Ferndale High School, and a bus trip to the Dark Horse Brewery & Firekeepers Casino.

Promotion is through social media/regular media, flyers, and general word of mouth. More volunteers are needed, because lots of work is always involved! Sibula mentioned that their team has a great Community Support Manager from ACS: Chris Rettich. He is effectively guiding their team into the next chapter. Additionally, the Ferndale Upper Elementary School still does fundraisers for them, and the whole Ferndale community has been very supportive. Sibula wishes to express her total gratitude for everyone’s amazing support over the years!

MANY PEOPLE ARE CURIOUS HOW THE ACS FUNDS ARE ALLOCATED. A good portion goes to research, both nationally and locally (as in Wayne State University; the ACS is second only to the U.S. government in providing money for cancer research.)

Resources through the ACS are plentiful too, for both patients and their families. For example the 1-800-227-345 line is staffed by specialists 24/7/365. Anyone can call with any questions , even if it is regarding a friend or loved one. Sibula mentioned that, “it is great someone is there all the time…even if it’s just to talk!”

Patients can also receive a free ‘personal manager’ from the ACS, to stay organized during treatment. Lodging is provided for patients who must travel a distance to receive their treatment. Via the ‘Road to Recovery’ program, volunteers provide rides to much-needed treatment locales. Sibula emphasized that, “having a

support network is crucial for patients, as it is a strong indicator of rate of success in recovery from cancer. It is frightening how many people cannot get to treatment without this volunteer service…they just do not have that kind of support in their lives.”

Naturally, we hope the team keeps up their hard work to raise funds, as almost all of us have been affected by cancer, either directly or indirectly. It is inspiring to see what a huge difference just a small team can make in the battle against cancer. Sibula hopes more local individuals will get involved in the ACS volunteer work, after reading this article!

Visit the Ferndale Area’s Relay for Life website at: www.relayforlife.org/ferndalemi.

Chris Rettich of the ACS can be emailed at: chris.rettich@cancer.org or called to answer any questions: 586.216.9471. The ACS 24/7 helpline# is: 1-800-227-2345.

For all updates and for more information, visit the Ferndale area Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/relayferndale/

The team office is located at: 22742 Woodward Ave, Ferndale 48220

Ferndale Library

By: Jeff Milo, Circulation Specialist

ACCESS UPDATES
The Library is getting some new technology for circulation services after April 6, making your next visit here quick, convenient and efficient. With updates to our Envisionware software, a new self-checkout station that will be simpler to use (than the previous equipment). Plus, we’re adding a second print-release station for folks working on our public computers, to expedite individual access to documents. We’re also excited to activate new Mobile Printing software, eliminating an extra step of having to log-on to a desktop to retrieve documents that are on your personal laptop or smartphone. With Mo-bile Printing, patrons won’t even have to physically be in the library. A downloadable app will let you link up to our print station ahead of time and you can pick them up later that day. And finally, we’ll have a new Document Station for faxing and scanning. Call us if you have any questions, and rest assured that staff can walk you through the intuitive operation of each of these new features.

BATTLE OF THE BOOKS
Exemplifying the collaborative relationship between our role as a District Library with Ferndale Schools, Head Youth Services Librarian Ashley Lehman played an integral role in reestablishing Battle of the Books. This competition culminated on March 28, a two-month literacy-boosting initiative designed to spark students’ enthusiasm for reading with a tournament of trivia pertaining to six diverse and enriching novels for upper elementary grade levels. On top of that, our Youth Services Librarians continually partner with the schools throughout outreach programming throughout the year.

SUMMER READING & OTHER PROGRAMS
Just a reminder to always stay tuned to our Face-book page, where you’ll get updates on all of the interesting programs and fun events happening at your library. In mid-April, we capped off an innovative fusion of four libraries (including Berkley, Huntington Woods and Oak Park) for a quad-city book club series of presentations and discussions with participants reading and experiencing one book together. Stay tuned, because our Summer Reading 2018 program is coming up in June—the theme is “Libraries Rock!” Summer Reading pro-grams will be kicking off in late June with a series of enlightening events and fun activities for kids, as well as a Bingo-style reading challenge for adults.

BOOK DRIVE
As part of Clean the Ferndale Up on Saturday, May 19, we’ll be having a book drive from 9 AM-11:45 AM, that day. Bring any and all books that you want to get rid of. We’ll take what we can use. We’ll give the rest to SOCCRA, who will be in our parking lot that day. Bring your books to the back of the parking lot on the east side of the Library.

SUMMER CONCERT SERIES
This will be no “First-Stop-Friday” concert event until October. Our monthly local music showcase goes on hiatus to make room for a separate Summer Concert Series. The Ferndale Library’s Summer Concert Series has always strived to expose library visitors to music that is new and exciting in a setting that is both lively and thoughtful. FADL’s biggest music event features three free, family-friendly concerts spread across the season. Stay tuned for a lineup announcement for Summer Concert Series 2018.

More info: ferndalepubliclibrary.org or facebook.com/ferndalepubliclibrary.

The City of Oak Park has evolved tremendously since City Manager, Erik Tungate, took office in 2012. “The City government operation has been fully modernized, and there is a new spirit among our residents and business owners. There is also a greater awareness for the role our community plays in the greater Metropolitan Detroit area,” Tungate explained. Much of this is due to his view that “You can’t cut your way out of a bad situation. You have to grow your way out,” a quote referenced in last year’s State of the City Address. Tungate is a proponent of sustainable growth.

Tungate explained, “For a city that is almost entirely built-out like Oak Park here in the inner ring suburbs of a major city like Detroit, there are only so many ways you can find new sources of revenue and maintain vibrancy. In local government, we have to make sure we are as fiscally responsible with our taxpayer’s hard-earned tax dollars as possible while staying focused on investing in quality of life amenities, attracting new development, and seeking strategic partnerships in our region in addition to finding cost savings. There is no question a proactive approach like this has proven to be more successful than simply cutting city expenditures and expecting the market to come to us.”

The theme of Oak Park’s 2017 State of the City Address was “Bridging the Past, Present and Future.” Tungate offered some insight. “At the address, we unveiled our bridge overpass project on the overpass at I-696 and Coolidge. We wanted to tie in all of the things we’ve been doing with that, since it is an infrastructure that most people in the State of Michigan will know us by once it’s installed.” He said over the course of the next year and looking even further ahead, “I want the City of Oak Park to be able to maintain its fiscally sound financial practices, and I would like to see us moving in the direction of even more walkability.”

Tungate is hopeful that the 2018 State of the City Address will bring even more exciting news. “We may be able to unveil some great new projects during our 2018 State of the City Address. In any event, when these projects are ready for prime time, we will be releasing information to promote the positive impact they will have on our growing community. I can safely say we are actively pursuing multiple mixed-use developments. In fact, this is one of our prime goals for 2018.”

As far as other goals for the city, “We are pursuing new housing developments through our economic development arm as well as investing in our infrastructure to build the kind of quality of life amenities that attract new residents from other areas. While it may seem counter-intuitive given how communities have dealt with attracting new development and residents in the past, we strongly believe that our investments will pay off versus the traditional mindset of giving tax incentives only,” Tungate explained. “This is a fairly new approach for Oak Park and there is no doubt we’ve seen this approach work in communities like Detroit, Ferndale, and Birmingham, who have invested heavily in creating one-of-a-kind places where people want to live and work.”

Tungate said his favorite thing about Oak Park, in general, is its residents and business owners. “I’ve worked in many other communities throughout my career and there is no question we have one of the most supportive groups of residents and business owners anywhere. Whether it’s Public Safety or economic development, they are always there for us and ready to provide a helping hand. It’s amazing to witness each and every instance. When you combine that with the amazing and talented team we have at the City, it is something truly special.”

Tungate said residents should know, “We are ready to lead and are not waiting for things to happen to us. Rather, we are shaping the future for ourselves and making things happen. Our city government is setting new standards and aggressively pursuing excellence in every way.”