- Title: Valley Court Park plans have relevance for City Center II - and more !
- Author: Steve Osborn
- Date: 03/25/2008
- Additional Categories: City Center II. Thread, Steve Osborn, Transportation, City Council, Recent Essays, Eminent Domain, Public Policy, Planning Commission, Historic District, Downtown Development Authority, City Center II (possible eminent domain)
Valley Court Park plans have relevance for City Center II - and more !At previous hearings on the City Center project I referred to the several planning studies of Valley Court Park conducted with citizen participation only 7 or 8 years ago, now adopted as a component of East Lansing’s Comprehensive Plan. Like all components of the Comprehensive Plan it is intended to bring carefully considered, reasoned guidance to the City’s consideration of new developments. A citizen participation process with systematic rankings of preferences was conducted, free of time pressures over any impending crisis in development. As such, the adopted plan may bring a good deal of planning guidance to the present day, as planning should.
And the adopted plan does indeed bring viewpoints and comments that have bearing on Planning Commission and Council’s decisions about City Center II. The written reports are of some length, and the adopted plan was chosen, by citizen recommendation, as a combination of two of the four alternative plans which citizens considered in their study sessions, summarized in a synopsis on Sept. 28, 2000 . So extensive, it’s easy to see why this vital background to anything to be planned in or near the Valley Court area might not have been brought forward to Planning Commission by staff. I will make available to Planning Commission members some most relevant portions of the study and report – which are available to anyone on request at City Hall. For this use in a public forum, I’ll summarize what the studies come to and bring out a few guidelines from the plan which was adopted.
All of the plan alternatives increased the park’s green space. Three of the four would have decreased parking, and provisions for public parking would have had to be made elsewhere if one of those three were implemented.
However, the plan that was chosen was developed from two alternatives, those which made the least change in the area, notably in parking provisions. Parking is maintained along Valley Court Drive in its present alignment. Comments favored parking next to the park for family convenience. Parking in the City lot no. 8, north of Peoples Church, is maintained but the lot is reconfigured to eliminate ‘cut through’ traffic. Thus parking is not notably decreased, but no need or desire is seen to substantially increase parking.
One of the plans – one of those not accepted – went so far as to propose a two-level parking deck on the site of parking lot 8. But even though such a structure would end cut-through parking while taking no land from the park, it was disfavored despite the amount of parking it would have added to the area.
Among other improvements, the extension of Delta St. to Valley Court Drive (now completed) was proposed. The plan also indicated that “there would be an improved pedestrian connection between the park and the center of the business district.”
“Traffic calming” on Valley Court Drive was briefly discussed, perhaps because the term was rather new in the year 2000. E-mails and letters sent in during the participative planning process expressed concerns about loss of green space and trees where Delta St. would be extended. A later comment in February 2001, probably about the time when the plan was adopted, advocated modest increase in the park’s green space, and better pedestrian circulation within and around the Park.
The three basic points in the participants’ reasons for choosing the adopted plan:
maintaining the character of Valley Court Drive and
not having a street extending north of Peoples Church
Graphic presentations of the park aided the citizen participation process. On such graphics are notes and comments by the professional Land Planners and Landscape Architects who prepared them. A few quotes are quite telling and relevant for today:
Open space found within the park is a real asset . . . allows for long views of the city and skyline that may not be available elsewhere . . try to preserve the views . .
BWL power station : interesting architectural style . . . should be preserved . . . (and it’s moved !)
It is important to make the park more visible from Grand River Avenue so that residents and visitors know that it is there.
You readily see how these points match up with much of what people have been saying at the hearings on City Center II. We’ve even seen in sketch form a plan concept which substantially increases the Park’s open space, avoids building up a tightening skyline so as to allow views into and out of the Park, and replaces any cut-through vehicular circulation with the preference for pedestrian circulation.
There is real merit in all of this careful work, developed by City Planning staff with citizen participation and professional input, taking unhurried time when economic pressures to push things along were perhaps not notably less than they are at present. These merits would give the adopted plan good standing on its own, even if the studies are taken as independent studies rather than adopted as they are into the Comprehensive Plan as true guidelines for development in our city.
The match-up of these plan recommendations with much of what people are saying at the hearings these days also points to the durability of public opinion on several key issues for this area and its development. The City and its planners should count on that enduring outlook as a basis for their recommendations and actions,
Stephen W. Osborn Architect Professional Community Planner