By Jim Newell
From business development to walking improvements, the extension of the Paint Creek Trail and the recently voted-on phased watermain replacement project, the Village of Lake Orion has a lot on tap in 2017.
The Lake Orion Review recently sat down with Village Council President to discuss some of the issues the village will tackle in 2017.
“There are a lot of things going on right now that are going to be great for the community in 2017. I think that ’17 is the year that the village is going to have the most growth, the most positive economic development in different ways,” Van Portfliet said.
The Paint Creek Trail: The village and DDA recently signed an agreement with the Lake Orion Lumber Yard to allow an easement through the lumber yard property extending the Paint Creek Trail. The trail, part of the Iron Belle Trail system, will extend through Lake Orion and into Oxford.
Bikers, hikers and runners from Lake Orion use the trail to travel to Rochester to enjoy the downtown. Van Portfliet said he hopes by extending the trail through the village, people will journey to Lake Orion to enjoy it’s downtown and could attract overnight visitors from such activities as the Michigan 300.
“We are going to go forward with the easement. That could be big. I’m expecting it to be big,” Van Portfliet said. “And we will start thinking about what kind of events we can put in that will draw in people from different communities around us.”
“I’m thinking there’s going to be some smaller size events. Or get people to ride up from Utica, spend an evening, enjoy the community and they ride further the next day,” he said.
Construction should start in April and the trail extension should be usable, but not completed, by the end of the construction season.
“There is a lot of interest…we’ve got a great police force. It’s safe. We have a good school system. All of the requirements that people like to see to come live here are in place. But we’ve also started to become more a destination community,” Van Portfliet said.
“We’ve got a lot of business growth that’s poised and ready go to, from Anita’s Kitchen to a new wine bar (by Children’s Park on Broadway Street) with an outdoor deck.
“We’ve got 20 Front St. down there that really is getting the accolades it deserves. People are still discovering it still, but I don’t think it will be too long before there is going to be a line out of the door there.”
20 Front Street is a live music venue currently open. The business also is developing a tea and Kombucha café and a creamery, which the owners have said they hope to open in April.
“People who pull off the trail could stop there (20 Front St. creamery). That would be a great destination point.”
Van Portfliet also pointed out that Nutz about Chocolate opened in the downtown in late 2016, and that a bakery is coming to Broadway Street this year.
“We’ve got a new tenant that has not inked the purchase agreement with the DDA yet for the purchase of our 51 North building. That should happen soon. And that will be another good addition (to the community).”
The Stockyard barbeque restaurant is changing to The Rio, a Mexican restaurant. “That could be a great thing,” Van Portfliet said.
With the business development also comes turnover and closures. 51 N. Brewery closed at the end of 2016, and the Dew Drop In closed in late 2016.
Fire Station 1: The village and township are looking at options to renovate Fire Station 1 on Anderson Street.
“The fire hall down there is under consideration for renovation and/or possibly moving it again.
“If there is a renovation that takes place which will accommodate the female firefighters – they don’t have those accommodations right now at that station – but they’re also looking to put in outdoor restrooms.”
Real Estate Development: There is a proposed housing development planned for west side of Broadway, just north of Paint Creek in the village. The four-story building would have shops on the lower level and housing on the upper three floors.
“There’s been an approval for a four-story building down by Paint Creek. And the developers have expressed ambition to build this year. There’s planning that still needs to take place and final approvals and stuff like that, but right now they’ve been given the variances by the Board of Zoning Appeals,” Van Portfliet said.
“One that has been approved by Paint Creek looks like it will make sense because there is a lower elevation there, and three story condominium with retail on the bottom,” he said. “It’s a very, very nice building. Brick. It looks like something that you would see that’s higher end down in Birmingham.”
The village currently limits building height to three stories. The village is also discussing an overlay zone that would allow new buildings and existing buildings to add more levels.
“And that prompted us to take a look at four stories in a larger area. The planning commission right now is talking about doing an overlay zone on the east side of M-24 and possibly including the west side of M-24. And that’s the debate that is currently going on in the planning commission. It appears that there’s support for the east side at this time,” Van Portfliet said.
“Economically, some of these developers need to have the additional tenant space in order to make their investment work,” Van Portfliet said.
“We’re also waiting for the plans to come in on the property development that is commonly known as Wagon Wheel Two (on Broadway Street). We’re expecting those plans to come in in 2017 as well and that would be another commercial development.”
Van Portfliet said the all the commercial and real estate development should benefit Lake Orion as it continues to grow, and the village council considers what it can do to make the community more attractive to businesses, families and to bring people to the downtown?
“For our community it’s great. The ball’s rolling,” he said.
Sidewalks: “There will be changes to improve walkability in the community. Last year, the DDA created the walk-through alleyway by Lockhart’s on Flint Street.”
Van Portfliet says they will be considering other places to improve walkability and make the downtown more inviting.
“I’ve had people comment to me ‘Gosh, I see folks walking around. I see younger people walking around downtown,” said Van Portfliet, pointing out a group of college-aged women sitting at the next coffee table. “It’s a good example of how things are changing. It’s great.”
Docks: “We’re looking to put dock in over by the medical office building for this season. Our application has been into the DNR. We’re expecting to get some response by this spring.”
The village has proposed three docks with six slips for boaters on Lake Orion to dock.
“We’re trying to tie the lake into the downtown so people can dock their boats and walk downtown to enjoy the restaurants and shopping,” Van Portfliet said, adding the village would look for additional spaces to add more docks if it becomes popular with boaters, possibly by Greens Park.
“The problem is always going to be traversing M-24, but we continue to look for ways to improve that as well.”
Trolley: Van Portfliet said he is excited about the trolley that NOTA has proposed, which would travel from downtown Lake Orion to downtown Oxford at The Legacy Center off M-24.
Especially when events are going on and people don’t want to fight for parking.
“I think that’s going to have a lot of attention. I’m excited about that. I think that’s going to be a good economic boost. People will be able to get around easier. Hopefully, people from Oxford will come down to visit us and we’ll share our commerce,” he said.
The village will also work on replacing its aging watermains, a potentially $7.8 million project advised by the engineers to update the mains and deal with a water pressure issue.
“And in 2017 we’ll begin our first year of infrastructure improvements. Council agreed to a four-year phased program. That will be more construction, not so much on the development side, but more on the infrastructure improvement side,” Van Portfliet said.
“It will be something that inconveniences people, occasionally, but also is change. It’s good change,” he said. “It’s a recommendation by our engineering group. It’s aging. We need to get in there and take a good look at it.
“If it’s going to be at the level that we’re expecting it, full expense level, we’re not sure about that yet. That’s why we’re doing a phased programming. There may be discoveries or other things that we find, that it wasn’t as bad as we expected.”
Improve sidewalks with CDBG sidewalk program.
SAW Grant project, televising of sewers. Concluding in Oct. 2018. “But this year we’ll continue getting information and that project will help us for planning in the future.”
“There may be some cost-saving considerations that come out of that, so we really have an eye on that.”
“We’re really spending a lot of time on capital improvement planning.”
“The budget’s tight, every dollar counts. We have a lot of needs. So, I’d say that council is applying more scrutiny than ever to capital improvement planning.”
“Fabric of the community”
Van Portfliet said the most important aspect of the village is the “Fabric of the community”: “Our people. Our charitable organizations. The Lions Club, Rotary. There’s so many that do so much.
“I still have people say to me: this is a great community and what makes it different from other communities? And I always go back to the people and the charitable organizations. But there’s the Art Center, too. To me, that’s just a jewel for the community,” he said.
“The veterans and the veterans memorial is another one of the those things that I don’t think is recognized enough. Our churches are strong. They do a lot for the community as well,” he said. “That’s all part of what really provides strength and depth to the community.”