By Pat Maurer
A vote on a resolution to apply for grant funds to move the Clare Railroad Depot and expand the rail-trail path through the city was changed Monday evening to just moving the depot after business owners objected to street changes.
In his agenda report City Manager Ken Hibl said the “Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) had 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 communities eligible to apply.
“Considerable effort, time, energy and resources have been expended in Clare during the past two decades to extend the Pere-Marquette Rail-Trail into the downtown district and to move a rehabilitate the City-owned railroad depot,” Hibl said in his report. “The Committee’s next major objective is to move the depot to its new site.” He said continuing the route of the trail on Fourth Street and moving the depot would qualify for the grant application, but said to comply with the State’s Complete Streets criteria and be eligible, the trail expansion would have to be 12 feet wide with 10 feet for parking spaces and 10 feet for traffic lanes. To leave the streetscape intact, he said either the street would need to be one-way, or nine parking spaces eliminated.
He added that funds were available for $40,000 of the local match, enough to move the depot with grant funds. The DDA (Downtown Development Authority) had approved adding $15,000 to the local match for the road reconstruction.
The decision to eliminate on-street parking or make the street one-way would not be necessary to apply for the grant Hibl said. The Downtown Development Authority approved eliminating parking and both the City Planning Commission and city staff had recommended applying for the grant but deferring the decision on Fourth Street until the matter could be studied more.
Commissioner Bob Bonham questioned the need to put the trail through the downtown area. Hibl responded that the State intent is to develop a continuous trail across the State and that the Michigan Department of Transportation is working towards extending the trail from the downtown area to the Moose Lodge connection.
Businessman Steve Stark, who said he owns a share in two downtown buildings and has a purchase order on a third, said, “We are long-time supporters of the trail and not opposed to that. The crux of the situation is the 12 foot width. Something has gotta go if it is that 12 foot piece of real estate you want. I don’t want this done at our expense.”
Businessman Tracy Bolle agreed saying, “You are taking a chunk of real estate out of that road.” Stark added, “I need as much parking as I can get.”
Commissioner Tom Kunse said eliminating nine parking spaces wouldn’t stop customers from coming. “I don’t have any parking and they still come. But people would drive right into the businesses if we would let them. That is Michigan; that is the way we are. People don’t like to walk.” He said making Fourth a one-way street would “make the mess we have on Fifth Street even worse.”
Clare Officer Greg Rynearson asked if making Fourth Street one way east from McEwan and one-way west from McEwan would be a better solution. “It would welcome people to the businesses,” he said.
Kunse added that the trail would “enhance the community, but it won’t bring a lot of money downtown.”
Hibl said there are three options. One is not to apply for a grant, two is to apply for a grant but defer the decision on Fourth Street and the third is to apply for the grant just to move the depot and ask the State to apply for money to build the bathrooms.
A motion to apply for grant funds just to move the depot and ask the State to apply for funds to build bathrooms was approved by the City Commission with Tom Koch and Mayor Pat Humphrey voting no.
In another matter Monday, after a closed session to discuss the upcoming contract with the Teamsters, the Commission gave Hibl authority to offer early retirement incentives to city employees that are age 50 or older and have within two years of the 25 necessary to qualify for full retirement benefits.
Hibl said the City agreed to “buy” up to two years of retirement credits for eligible employees who wish to retire early.
Other business at the City Commission meeting Monday included:
*Approval of the annual City Audit by Andrews, Hooper & Pavlik of Midland.
*Setting aside the approval of well cleaning bids.
*Approval of the purchase of air tanks for the Fire Department.
*Recognition of 15 years of service by Firefighter TJ Lewis.
*Recognition of six years of service as the Clare Main Street Manager by Lori Schuh.
*Reappointment of Jim Allen and Al Iacco to the DDA; appointment of Roger Williams as a voting member of the DDA; reappointment of Marlene Hales to the Cemetery Board and appointment of John Kline as Planning Commission representative on the Zoning Board of Appeals.