Ypsilanti Water Street possibility: Connecting River Street to Factory Street with bridge
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The opportunity for redevelopment along the Huron River on Water Street is limitless, according to consultants who are helping to update Ypsilanti's master plan, but the city needs to figure a way to connect the entire city to the property.
That connectivity can be achieved by connecting River Street to Factory Street, with a bridge over the Huron River.
Courtesy Shape Ypsilanti
"Right now River Street dead ends at Michigan Avenue," said Mayor Paul Schreiber. "It can bisect the Water Street property if it goes all the way to Factory Street. It would have to be a bridge over the river and it would tie in the southern part of the city to the rest of the city. It seems like that’s a huge thing."
River Street, which already runs through Depot Town, would serve as a connecter to the Water Street property.
The street would be equipped with both pedestrian and vehicular capabilities and the bridge would likely be right where Catherine Street intersects with Factory Street, said Planner Bonnie Wessler.
"You could go from Depot Town and get on River Street and go all the way down to Factory Street," Schreiber said. "That’s a great connector we don’t have right now."
Schreiber said drivers use a series of one-way streets to connect to the other side of town. The connectivity that would come from creating a bridge would also make access to Interstate 94, officials said.
Consultants also are proposing the creation of a public gathering spot that could be used for events or other purposes. It may lure developers who envision it evolving into a high-traffic area.
Ian Lockwood, a principal transportation engineer with AECOM, Inc., said the city should value its waterfront property and have a public edge all along the public waterfront.
"There are opportunities for wonderful redevelopment along the river," Lockwood said during a Wednesday joint Ypsilanti City Council and Planning Commission session.
"It's important for buildings to be fronted and we want to pull the value of the water," Lockwood said. "The idea is to create a highly walkable edge. Imagine the street all the way up to Depot Town, that makes a really nice relationship."
Planning Commission member Gary Clark previously served as the chair of the Ypsilanti 20/20 Task Force, that looked at ways to improve the city over a long period of time. Clark said part of their vision was to extend River Street through the Water Street property.
"I'm delighted to see it's part of it," he said. "There's a beautiful part of the river back there. ... It all goes together. You've reinforced what we thought was important and doubled the frontage."
Lockwood said the city needs to consider establishing standards for the entire property to help guide future development. Lockwood said while he has no issues with the use of the proposed recreation center and Family Dollar, he is concerned with their forms and location.
Lockwood is proposing moving the potential location of the recreation center further off Michigan Avenue and deeper on the Water Street property.
"No one has a quarrel with the use of the rec," he said. "I would just like you to think long and hard about the form. If it's on Michigan Avenue, it's isolated."
Former Ypsilanti resident Wanda Wiser isn't a fan of the idea. Wiser just moved one block out city limits into Ypsilanti Township.
"I’m not real thrilled with moving the rec center down and further off the Michigan Avenue corridor, mainly because it will bring people into the city," she said. "You have a bird in your hand, the rest of it is all possible development. If you make it harder for the rec center, you may lose them and then you’ve got nothing, which is what's been happening over and over in this area since the Water Street project started."
For the Family Dollar, Lockwood suggested adding more windows to the front of the property and urged officials to think about requiring this before the structure is built.
"Chances are the Family Dollar will change in maybe five to 10 years from now, but what goes in second will contribute to the area," Lockwood said. "If they follow the rules, you'll get a predictably nice place, if they don’t then the developments don’t work together and adjacent buildings should work together."
By establishing standards now, Lockwood said it creates a sense of predictability that developers like.
Joseph Tobianski | AnnArbor.com
"They can go in knowing that their neighbor is going to be held to the same standards," he said. "If they see the vision and predictability, it's much more likely for investment to come in because they know you have a vision and you're sticking to it. If they’re holding you hostage to the form, then you’ve undermined predictability. It just needs to be built in form that respects urbanism."
In March, Ypsilanti postponed its decision on the proposed $1.2 million Family Dollar development until April after council members and residents expressed concern over aspects of the project, including the form and design.
Council Member Daniel Vogt was one of the council members concerned about the Family Dollar design. Vogt said he agreed with Lockwood's analysis.
"I think the presentation about the dollar store is spot on and think it's something council will need to consider very carefully," he said.
City Manager Ralph Lange said council will have a tough decision to make about Family Dollar and cautioned that the city could potentially lose out on what would be Water Street's first redevelopment.
"We've come to the hard decision of if Family Dollar will not budge to your desires, is it all or nothing?" he said. "Would we let $1 million go away? That's the hard reality the council is going to have to face."
Lange also inquired about how the city would pay to extend River Street throughout the entire property. Lange said that could potentially cost $1 million to do and he wasn't sure if the city can afford to make that investment at this time.
Former Mayor Cheryl Farmer, who was mayor when the city assembled the 38-acre site, said the city should consider the negative impact the Family Dollar may have.
"One of my concerns is that is a brand name that may brand the whole parcel in a negative way and make it more difficult to market the entire parcel," Farmer said.
Planning Commission Chair Rod Johnson said the discussions about Water Street are important to have and that this is the first time the city will have a basis to go off on for future developments.
"The whole Water Street redevelopment zone provides a means of communication between the city and developers about what may or may not work," Johnson said. "It's very important to have a basis for the master plan for all of us, so that we can look at undeveloped land and effectively engage a developer on what will work and what will not work."