By Megan Kelley
The Lake Orion Downtown Development Authority met on Jan. 14 for a special meeting to discuss this years priorities.
The DDA recently received the results of their annual priorities survey which helps the DDA Board of Directors and management decide what to focus on in 2020.
Topics discussed included: a farmers market, expanding parking, pedestrian safety/lighting, marketing, enhanced walkability, NOTA and historic facade preservation.
The DDA board voted the following as the DDA’s top priorities of 2020:
1. Lighting and Safety
4. Farmers Market
It was instantly agreed upon that in order to have a farmers market in downtown, the location would be key.
The Lake Orion Lumberyard was suggested, as well as the intersection of Flint and Broadway streets.
DDA Executive Director Molly LaLone added that the owner of Lucky’s Natural Foods, Tanya Luchkovitz had previously expressed interest in holding a farmers market in conjunction with the store.
Should this still be the case, the DDA could allow Lucky’s to hold their own farmers market in the village.
Parking has been a long-standing topic of conversation in the downtown area and looks to continue to be high on the list of priorities this year.
With the construction of M-24 on the horizon, Village Council president Ken Van Portfliet, as well as LaLone, do not believe it is a wise time to instate paid parking in the downtown.
The general consensus among board members was that, during the weekends, the downtown is “packed.” This is possibly because of the addition of several new businesses in recent months, such as Anita’s Kitchen, Bitter Tom’s and 313 Pizza Bar.
“It’s a little bit of (the) fresh, new…there’s a lot of sparkle right now,” said Van Portfliet. “Give it about three more months — that’ll give us a better indicator of where we’re going to go, what we need to do.”
With new parking lots being constructed on Slater Street, the board worries not that there isn’t adequate parking, but that visitors in the downtown will not know where to find it.
Parking signs, as well as road paint to show where parking is available, were two options briefly discussed to combat this possible issue.
Valet parking has been discussed recently and is still something very much on the table.
However, some board members voiced opposition to the DDA paying for the valet service and suggested that the restaurants — which would benefit most from valet service in the evenings — be the ones to front the bill.
Historic Facade – preservation
Recently, the village has seen quite a bit of interest from developers.
With the addition of 120 S. Broadway apartment/retail building and a possible new development on the lot at 44 E. Flint St., the idea of preserving “historic character” during new building developments has been brought up by board members and members of the community.
“The village ordinance, the DDA ordinance, does not have any mention about historic preservation and yet that’s our mantra and that’s what Mainstreet (of Oakland County) says,” said Van Portfliet.
Chairperson Debbie Burgess questioned if there was some way that the board could update the ordinance that would require a developer to have “some sort of historic character” while still being able to see style progression from old to new development.
“Lets look at the facts,” Burgess said. “Mainstreet (of Oakland County) the program…we get a lot from them. This community receives a lot from them and for us to kind of just like turn a blind eye and say, ‘We’re going to have a lot of new development but we don’t care if it really has historic character to it or not.’ I don’t really think that’s being true to who we are.”
Lalone explained that Mainstreet of Oakland County can review site plans and give suggestions on how to retain historic character.
“There’s two problems with this,” said Vice Chairperson Anthony Reighard. “Problem one: if the developer comes in and wants to build a building here, you have to work with him. You can’t also make it not cost-effective for him.
“Issue two, if you look at the building across from us (the American Legion) that building is, pardon my French, it’s worthless anyways, anything that gets put there is ten times better than what’s there now. So there’s issues like that that you have to consider.”
Reighard used the 120 S. Broadway development as an example of how certain materials, such as the concrete slab bottom, give it historical character.
However, the issue of allowing another four-story development in the downtown continues to raise concerns among board members.
“Unfortunately, the reality is, the property has so much value to it, if you don’t allow a person to build it a certain size — they’re not going to build,” Reighard said. “You can’t limit people from what they can build…the real important things are the materials you’re building it out of…will the building fit with downtown? You can’t tell the builder they can’t build something if they can’t afford to build (a village approved alternative).”
With the discussion leaning toward whether the village should implement some soft of guidelines for developers, the question was raised if that should be listed as another priority for 2020.
“Design guidelines will take nine months to a year to formulate and put into our ordinances currently,” Van Portfliet said. “Right now, we can’t force somebody to do what we want because there’s nothing available.
“So, we’re at the whim of the builder right now…as far as tax abatements, the council right now has no plans for tax abatements…when you come in and build an $3.4 million unit and you’re asking for $300,000 to $400,000 of money that normally would be tax money to our community…we need the cash…if you can’t come here and figure in your plan, your full development cost, I’m not so sure you’re the right person to come here and develop,” Van Portfliet said.
NOTA (North Oakland Transportation Authority)
Survey results also showed that residents would be interested in having a NOTA shuttle from downtown Lake Orion to downtown Oxford.
There would be a permanent stop placed in both downtowns on the NOTA route and would hopefully help maintain foot traffic during the M-24 construction this year.
NOTA currently services residents who want rides, however these must be scheduled pick-ups.
While this could be a way to combat the village’s parking issues, Van Portfliet did not feel that the DDA should spend money to create a NOTA stop.
“If NOTA wants to fund that and provide that service, have at it. But for us to spend funds on that, I’m not okay with,” Van Portfliet said.
As of now, the DDA captures $6,000 from NOTA, said Village Manager Joe Young.
Burgess felt that given the 80-plus-year-old demographic in the area, a NOTA stop would be a good service to look into providing.