The Bayfront Plan And The Little Train: Muddling Forward
I’ve been directly involved with the Bayfront Plan Implementation since January 2010. As a parks and recreation commissioner I’ve served on the previous and current ad hoc steering committee tasked with working with staff and design teams. It hasn’t been a perfect process (wouldn’t expect it to be) and yet it has been one of the most open, transparent and inclusive that I’ve ever seen in Traverse City. I certainly didn’t see everything I championed included and many of the elements/designs desired were watered down. Still, I trust the process and that the real value-added details have yet to be designed. An element I’m really enthused about is the water feature using the artesian well that will be named after former Governor William Milliken (IPR).
Disinterested Commissioners Suddenly Champions For Train
Of course, as we are about to begin phase I at Clinch Park much of that work and enthusiasm is being put at risk because of the Save the Train movement’s ability to shift what were previously disinterested city commissioners–where were these commissioners’ declarations that the train must stay last year? They were invited to public & private charrettes; they could have come to ad-hoc or full parks and recreation meetings. They had more opportunity than anyone to make comments and be involved. They chose not to and then approved the plan to move forward. Earlier this spring, they also approved the latest request for proposal (RFP) for Clinch that specifically did not include the train in the plan.
Of course, history is lost in the world of public process when it doesn’t serve someone’s current needs. Although still a bit murky (we have stated opinions of city commissioners, no specific record of action) the train will get a second opportunity to remain at Clinch Park. Last night (REagle), it was requested that the design firm hired for phase I, Hamilton-Anderson, include in the process options to make the train work at Clinch Park.
This will be difficult for me; I’m not a champion to keep the train at Clinch Park. I’m convinced that keeping the train severely limits our opportunities at Clinch Park for the next 50 years. Any new recommendations to keep at Clinch will need to meet high standards and not degrade what I think could be a place for everyone to enjoy. I’ve shared as much with people who’ve contacted me and with the city commission. Below is my last letter to the city commission in support of moving ahead without the train…Obviously, it had little impact.
boldly cautiously move forward.
Dear City Commissioners and Staff,
I was part of last year’s bayfront planning committee and we did discuss the train-at length. The design/engineering firm played with many ideas and in the end couldn’t make it fit with all the other elements and goals that came out of an exhaustive public process. Note, a process that included many volunteer hours by a lot of people. Not once during that time was there a large outcry demanding the City to design around the train. In fact, most people were indifferent, if not supportive of moving forward without the train. You won’t hear from many of them, but not everyone thinks we need a train down there. Below is a list of just a few of the meetings where the public had opportunities to publicly comment.
It isn’t that the train is completely incompatible for what the bayfront plan calls for at Clinch, anything can be engineered, but it does create severe limitations for what many feel are minimal gains. The train offers a 10 minute experience in one season and on certain days out of the year for a limited clientele. The attempt of the bayfront plan, and it isn’t there yet, is to create a place that captures more people and allows more freedom of movement, experience and programming over a longer time. The Clinch Park area, conceptually being called the Con Foster Commons, can be a much improved place that sees more use year-round.
With the train and all its requirements, the configuration of trails, walkways, play areas and parking, as well as the location of the bathhouse are all compromised to allow for the train’s use. Basically, what type of place we can create is limited by the trains footprint and the context it creates. I feel the same way about the abundance of parking down on the bay, but parking was clearly stated as an
untouchable unremovable element during the process. We managed a compromise by reconfiguring some of the parking lot, conceptually anyway, to provide potential plaza space during events. I still don’t understand how it makes sense to have a parking lot on some of the most valued property in the City, but it was made clear that parking couldn’t be substantially reduced or moved.
The train also has a large footprint. I said 20 feet width at last night’s meeting because I include the usable space around it. The real footprint, as the parks superintendent pointed out is only 8 feet, but the space around it that is usable and able to be used for other activities/designs is more like 20 if not more…are you having a picnic next to the train? As well, there are many people who have expressed that the fumes created spread much further and aren’t appreciated. I’ll grant train supporters that there is also a highway next to the park, but some of that is also mitigated if the Bayfront plan continues to be followed.
The train is not now part of the bayfront plan and I’m not a champion for it to be made a part of it. If it is the city manager’s, parks superintendent’s or city commission’s directive that the train must remain at Clinch each of those entities must realize the limitations they are placing on the design and/or the extra costs that decision will create. I remind you though, the city manager, the parks superintendent, and all the city commissioners were invited to participate in last year’s public design meetings and had all year to speak-up about the train.
Thank you for your time.
Traverse CIty, MI
Some of the public meetings where the train could have been or was discussed:
- March 23-25, 2010 – Bayfront Charrette
- March 30,, 2010 – Northwest Michigan Disability Network
- April 9, 2010 – CGD and Nate Elkins on Mary in the Morning
- May 11, 2010 – Central Neighborhood Association
- May 16, 2010- Kids Creek Commons Neighborhood Association
- May 18, 2010-Recreational Authority
- May 19, 2010 – Joint Recreation Association
- May 19, 2010-Planning Commission/Parks & Recreation
- May 20, 2010- Old Town Neighborhood
- May 21, 2010 – DDA
- May 24, 2010 – Kiwanis
- May 24, 2010 – City Commission
- May 25, 2010 – Northwest Michigan Disability Network
- June 1, 2010 – Slab Town Neighborhood
- July 16, 2010 – DDA
- July 19, 2010 – City Commission
- July 27, 2010 – Rotary Club
- August 8, 2010 – City Planning Commission
- September 7, 2010 – City Commission (approved plan)