By Pat Maurer
In a special meeting December 21, the Clare City Commission changed their decision not to pursue grant funds to extend the rail-trail through the City.
The board had voted against seeking state funds to help with that project at the regular meeting because of concerns of the business owners on Fourth Street.
The original plans would have either eliminated nine parking spaces on Fourth Street, or would have made the street one-way in order to comply with state requirements for a 12 foot wide trail through the downtown area.
In his agenda report at the December 17 meeting, City Manager Ken Hibl said the “Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) have announced a grant opportunity for certain Michigan communities (those designated as low/moderate income communities) to apply for a Downtown Infrastructure Grant (DIG).” He said the state allocated $3 million for the program and Clare is one of 375 low to moderate income communities eligible to apply. “The competition will be fierce,” he added.
After a lengthy discussion and hearing the business owners concerns over the changes, the board voted 3-2 to only apply for a $150,000 grant to move the historic Clare Railroad Depot to its new site on Fourth Street.
That all changed later in the week when a new plan design was suggested that would comply with State requirements and only remove one parking space, without changing the traffic flow on Fourth Street.
“I asked Terry Palmer (retired Michigan Department of Transportation Mt. Pleasant Transportation Service Center Chief) to come and ‘walk the streets with me’, “Hibl said. “Terry is the man who developed the plan for Clare’s round-about.”
Hibl said after looking the site over as an informal consultant, Palmer suggested a design that would only eliminate one parking space on East Fourth and none on West Fourth. “We will only lose one [street] light and one tree each on East Fourth and West Fourth,” he said.
The plan would use the existing ten foot sidewalk for the trail and build extended curbs in three places where trees and streetscape lights would be moved to clear the rail-trail area. “We polled the business owners and none had any objection to the new plan,” Hibl said, “so we called the special meeting Friday morning.”
The City Commission voted 3-1 (Tom Koch was absent) to apply for a $520,000 grant for the rail-trail extension and for moving the Clare Depot. Commission Bob Bonham was the dissenting vote. “He said he had concerns about snow removal [with the curb ‘bump outs’ and about traffic flow with the curb extensions.” Hibl said.
The DIG grant application had to be submitted by Friday to be considered. The City is applying for $370,000 for the rail-trail extension and $150,000 to relocate the depot. “In addition, Hibl said, “the MDOT Transportation Service has agreed in principal to sponsor a separate $280,000 Alternative Transportation Grant application to construct a 40-space parking lot and building to house public restrooms and be used as a ‘trail head’ at the new depot site. The whole project would total $815,000.”
The local match for the DIG grant would be approximately $121,000: $40,000 already accumulated by the Clare Depot Restoration Committee; $60,000 from the City; $15,000 from the Downtown Development Authority; $2,000 from a local businessman and $4,000 in donated architectural services from Mid Michigan Community Action Agency.