By Diane Madigan
Independent Special Writer
The Belleville Road fence project in the Van Buren Township Downtown Development District is moving forward.
At its regular meeting Oct. 22, the DDA voted to approve services of a registered landscape architect and to advertise for bids for the removal of the old fence and replacement with a new fence.
The DDA also voted to be responsible for the care and maintenance of the new fence until the VBT DDA ceases to exist.
Bids are expected to be due and opened in November. This process is not to exceed $6,000.
The old bent and poison-ivy-covered cyclone fence with barbed wire will be replaced with a six foot, wood-simulated, reinforced tongue and grooved vinyl fence the color of tree bark, called “Frontier Blend.”
The bid will include removal of existing vegetation and tree pruning to allow for installation of the new fence in the same location as the existing chain link fence in the Wayne county right of way.
Jim Allen, landscape architect from McKenna and Associates presented a landscape plan for review. The plan now includes one property south of Harmony Lane and one property north of Sunrise along the Belle Harbor subdivision.
The plan describes an inventory of small elm trees and also noted that up to three quarters of the fence is covered in poison ivy.
The new fence is described as wind-resistant, able to withstand wind gusts up to 115 mph for seven seconds, and steady 70 mph winds.
So far, the DDA has spent $4,778 on the project.
DDA Executive Director Susan Ireland said she sent letters to 11 residents whose property abuts the fence. She said she received calls thanking the DDA for pursuing this project and heard from one resident that was opposed to the fence. She said, eventually, this resident, Charles Tackett, called DDA vice chairman Craig Atchinson and said he is behind the project 100%.
Ireland and Atchinson recently attended a Belle Harbor Home Owners Association meeting, with the group voting 15 yes and 4 no to replace the fence.
Ireland first proposed the project last November after receiving complaints from residents about the unsightly fence.
Bechtel, who was not at that meeting and missed several others at the beginning of 2013, voiced his opposition to the project and read a statement into the minutes.
Bechtel said this is not something the DDA should do. He said it goes against the charter and primarily benefits only 11 residents, adding everything the DDA does is for the infrastructure and for the beautification of the entire community.
He said he is terribly fearful of the legal ramifications when the DDA starts monkeying around these people’s fences.
He said he had the exact same situation with a 350-home subdivision. Someone that was there before them put up a fence. He did everything they said. It was a two-year nightmare on his own property and they never stopped complaining.
“We open up a precedence for people in this community to say: ‘You did that for them to beautify. Well, how about me?’”
He continued, “Wait until these people figure out that we are spending $60,000 to $70,000 for these 11 people’s fences.”
Chairman Jere Dolph asked for comments from other directors.
Ireland said a number of people in the community said the current fence looks terrible driving into the City of Belleville.
“This is supposed to be our Downtown Corridor and it looks like crap,” she said. “All the trees are falling on the fence.”
She said a tree had fallen on the fence and no one could tell who was responsible for removing it. She had Wade Trim engineers do a survey to determine where the fence is located.
She said it is in the Wayne County right of way, which is in the DDA district. Ireland said the fence promotes an image.
Atchinson said, legally, it’s up to the county, but the county is giving the DDA approval to do something on its property.
The DDA discussed the issue of eminent domain and people claiming to have maintained the property for a period of time.
Atchinson said if that should occur, the township could reassess the property and their taxes.
Ireland said she has told the residents many times, in all of her correspondence, that the fence is in the county right of way.
DDA member Mark Laginess said that Ireland said this doesn’t violate the charter and the precedence that it’s setting is of the beautification it is going to add in an important area. He asked if the DDA has legal documentation necessary in the event that someone does challenge them.
DDA member Carol Bird said it’s an eyesore and replacement really has to be done.
VBT Supervisor Linda Combs, who sits on the DDA, said she thinks this will be a huge improvement to the look coming into the township or coming into the city, or when you’re going out of the city, “You’re still going past that.”
Supervisor Combs said she thinks it will greatly improve the aesthetics, adding, “I understand, Mr. Bechtel, because it doesn’t matter if you hang them with a new rope, you’re still hanging them. People are going to complain, regardless. They are the minority and I think, overall, it’s good for the township. The DDA is trying to bring business and people into the township.”
DDA member Mark Laginess asked if the DDA had anything in writing from the residents giving the DDA their blessing.
Ireland said the letters that went out to the residents were drafted by the township attorney.
“I’m in favor,” Atchinson said.
“This is why we’re here tonight. To discuss these factors,” said Chairman Dolph. “There’s rights, there’s wrongs. From all information gathered, legally the DDA has a right to make this move. As the chairperson, I’m in favor of the fence and believe the fence will enhance the township and enhance the City of Belleville.”
Ireland said there will be a hefty supply of replacement parts. Photographs and videotape will be taken before there is any work done.
Wayne County required a responsibility statement from the DDA, stating the DDA will be responsible for maintenance.
That’s when the 6-1 vote was taken on the long-term maintenance, with Bechtel voting no.
In other business at the Oct. 22 meeting, the DDA:
• Changed its next meeting date to 5:30 p.m., Monday, Nov. 18;
• Heard an update on the Belleville/Ecorse Road project that the DDA participated in with the county, with the township funding the portion for the water-sewer project. The township portion was about $800,000 less than original estimates and the road portion was about $50,000 less. The DDA is just around what it committed to pay. Ireland said the bid was $3.8 million for the concrete work, which did not include the landscaping. The DDA cost was roughly $3.1 million. The total was estimated close to $8 million; and
• Heard Ireland reply to a question about maintaining the grass on the county-owned areas in the Belleville/Ecorse area, that the township DPW goes out for bids for grass-cutting services and she has them include DDA property.
By Diane Madigan