By Rose Carver
Ferndale has a parking problem. Looking for a parking spot during the weekends or for downtown events is beyond a hassle. Residents and officials have been debating solutions for years, to little or no avail. Last year, the widely-publicized 360 Project, which would have built two parking structures with office and retail space on either side of Woodward, was ultimately rejected. Now, similar plans are beginning to form.
The Ferndale City Council selected a parking lot at the corner of West Troy Street and Allen Street to house a new parking structure. However, there are conflicting ideas of how the space should be used. City Council is setting their sights on mixed-use space again – a parking garage with residential, office, and commercial space built in. With the large opposition of the 360 Project last year, this new plan is coming as a surprise to many residents.
The Council’s vision is a parking structure with office and retail space on the ground floor, with the possibility of an office cap on the top floor rather than rooftop parking. After spending the last year researching available lots in Ferndale, Council voted unanimously to select the location at West Troy Street and Allen Street as the best option due to its size and location. Council is including the mixed-use space idea to promote the city’s walkability and to expand the downtown area, as well as bringing more daytime traffic to the area.
The Park Ferndale web site says the project goals include the following:
● Meeting the parking supply needs for our downtown businesses
● Minimizing business disruption during construction
● Minimizing the impact of the parking deck height on residents
● Creating a sense of place for the public
● Providing a buffer for the residents adjacent to the parking lot
● Creating a vibrant street, active with complementary retailers
Despite this positive mission statement, there are still concerns for neighbors of the lot. Local business owners worry about the traffic and delays that will be caused by the construction of the building. A simple parking structure can be put up in a matter of months. The addition of plumbing and electricity to accommodate the mixed-use space will delay the completion date by months or years. This is very concerning.
“Losing a lot we depend on for two years will be devastating for business,” says local Sensei Jaye Spiro, owner of Mejishi Martial Arts on Nine Mile Road. As an all-ages teacher, Jaye worries that the loss of this space will make it difficult for students to be picked up or dropped off from the building.
While Council has offered to accommodate a shuttle from Credit Union One to the plaza, the businesses fear this is a complicated, even if temporary, fix.
Jaye is united with neighboring business owners who think a simple parking structure would be best for the city’s needs. Jaye cites a parking platform recently built in Rochester, a simple three-level brick parking garage, as a preferable outcome. The project took less than a year to build and added nearly 300 spots to Rochester’s downtown area, all while finishing ahead of schedule and under budget by over a million dollars.
The height of the structure is also a repeated concern. A 2014 parking survey determined that 250 more parking spots are needed in the downtown area. The Public Meeting Summary notes that the Troy lot is zoned for buildings of 70 feet, or six to seven stories tall. The committee says even a parking-only structure would require four stories to reach 250 spaces. Worry is resonating that a new structure will shadow over the historic downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods.
The planning is currently in a public outreach stage. Council has held two public meetings and sent out a survey to 300 residents and business owners asking for their opinion on the plans for the mixed-use space. Seventy-four responses were received, most of which were from residents or business owners in the direct vicinity. Many of the comments and questions had similar themes; that parking is a more pressing need than the mixed-use components, that more information needs to be provided for the project, that the proposal could negatively impact residents and businesses, and that residents deserve adequate communication throughout the progress of the project.
Many suggested that traffic on Troy and Allen should be rerouted, that Troy become one-way or a dead end to cut down on an already congested traffic spot. Some responses seem hesitant; “In my opinion, Troy Street is not the place for ‘mixed-use.’ We simply need more parking for the existing businesses. Creating more business simply creates more demand on parking. I say, be progressive, build the ‘deck parking’ and let existing businesses grow.”
Some sound angrier: “How much revenue can possibly come from rental space in a ‘mixed-use’ parking deck that ultimately consumes the very spots it’s providing. A tiered deck for Troy St. is what we need immediately. Not mixed with potential store fronts or restaurants… and that this survey is specifically for thoughts on ‘mixed-use’ only seems to me we are right back to the last 360 disaster…why hasn’t Ferndale learned from our neighboring cities mistakes?” and “How would you feel if you got to wake up each morning and look out your kitchen window to see a giant, ugly cement structure instead of the bright morning sky?? How about barbequing in your backyard under… a cement structure? Your kids swinging… under a cement structure! Love it? No? Neither do I.”
Within all the concern for the mixed-use structure is a repeated overture; the downtown area has such a draw throughout metro-Detroit for its unique spirit; the beautiful historical buildings and interesting businesses are incomparable to other cities. As one survey responder so eloquently phrased it; “We are turning Ferndale into Royal JOAK.”
To learn more about the project, surveys and previous meetings or to find out about future meetings, go to www.ferndaleparking.com.