By Patsy Isenberg
A disputed tree-replacement contract and concerns about tree removals were topics of the January meeting of the College Cultural Neighborhood Association, along with updates about plans for Pierce Park, discussion of progress in implementing the city’s new charter, and concerns about suspected drug activity on Court Street.
CCNA President Mike Keeler and Vice-president Sherry Hayden offered updates on the status of an evolving proposal for the now-vacant Pierce Park. Todd and Tara Korpi from The Cathedral, a nondenominational church, had presented their plan at the last meeting for renovating the building and improving the grounds. Keeler and Hayden said the request for a proposal from the Korpi’s is expected to go out soon.
Trees, trees, trees
Keeler explained the neighborhood’s ongoing tree problem is two-fold. One was the issue of cutting down trees in the spaces between sidewalks and the street during water pipe replacement. The second is what Keeler said was the lack of the City of Flint’s final approval of a plan to buy trees for the neighborhood.
Keeler said the neighborhood tree contract pursued last year to beautify the CCN has stalled. He said CCN leaders wanted the tree contract to be bid out, and that a motion by former councilman Scott Kincaid was approved with amounts in the ballpark of $300,000, but that in the “back and forth, there seems to be no acknowledgement that it even passed.” Addressing recently re-elected Seventh Ward Councilwoman Monica Galloway, in attendance at the meeting, Keeler suggested he wanted minutes from the relevant council meeting to “set the record straight.” Galloway agreed, though noting adding she remembered it differently and the matter seems to be a “bone of contention” between the CCNA and the Council.
Blanchard Street pipe replacement threatens silver maples
Another set of tree worries concerned the threatened removal of several large silver maples on Blanchard Avenue between Court and Calumet due to water replacement line work. Keeler said the problem stems from not knowing what kind of pipe is beneath the tree — copper, lead or galvanized pipe — and several of the trees obscuring the pipes have been marked by water pipe contractors.
Residents said sometimes the tree has been cut down only to discover that the line is copper and the tree could have remained. Keeler said one resident suggested the pipe replacement could instead go the way hers did — the contractor put in another line next to the old one instead of cutting a tree down. Price is a factor and Keeler wondered if that method might be cheaper. He suggested people meet with Councilwoman Galloway to try to come up with a plan to save the trees.
Several residents spoke up to report detailed conversations with the pipe replacement contractors, complaining not just about the loss of trees, but also the damage done to yards and sidewalks. One resident countered that trees sometimes cause damage to concrete and surrounding pipes.
In a related matter, Councilwoman Galloway said she recently had received an answer to the question raised by CCNA members of whether residents could take responsibility for trees in the “tree park” between the sidewalk and street at the residents’ address. She said the answer from the city legal department is “no,” based on concerns about insurance and safety.
Conservation District board election upcoming
Keeler announced the upcoming election of Genesee Conservation District board members. The conservation district, the body responsible for executing the city’s tree contracts, has been the source of much scrutiny and criticism by CCNA members, for whom the disposition of trees in the neighborhood’s canopy has been an ongoing sore spot.
Keeler introduced two of four candidates for seats on the board: David Lossing, a Ph.D. student at Indiana State University who is currently on the board, appointed to replace Laurie Everly in November; and Kris Miner, a recently retired teacher active in urban gardening and other environmental issues. Later in the meeting, two other candidates for the board, Andy Everman and Carolyn Kellogg, also introduced themselves. The election will be at 11 a.m. Wed., March 22 at Asbury United Methodist Church. Any resident of Genesee County may vote. Absentee ballots can be obtained by calling 230-8766. Three candidates will be selected.
Pay attention to charter implementation, Bankert and Richardson urge
Terry Bankert, Flint attorney and frequent commentator on local affairs, and Jim Richardson, a member of the elected commission which developed the new city charter, offered updates and concerns about its implementation.
The charter, the first revision since 1974, was voted in by a two-thirds majority in August and took effect Jan. 1. Richardson said work toward implementing the new charter is moving forward. He said city council members had a training session a week ago.
Bankert explained the new charter needs to be interpreted and overseen by an Ethics and Accountability Board to be appointed by the mayor and city council, and he and Richardson urged residents to pay attention to the formation of the board and get involved.
The board will consist of 11 members and one ombudsman, Bankert explained. Each of the nine council members will choose one member from their own ward and the mayor chooses two. The board then will hire the ombudsman. Board members will serve a five-year term, staggered so they don’t all turn over at one time. After the members are selected, a public hearing is to take place and each must receive six votes to secure their appointment. Richardson explained candidates for the board must be registered voters, and cannot have served in an elected positions, or cannot be a member of an elected official’s family.
Avon Street mansion up for auction
In the monthly real estate report, Mark Fisher from Wiechert, Realtors-Grant Hamady said 11 homes were sold in the last two months and 10 are currently pending including one foreclosure, but that the number of distressed homes is down and steady. The average price per square foot is up at $44 and the average number of days a house is on the market is 52.
One house discussed at length, 925 Avon St., is set to be auctioned, Fisher reported. The 9,000-square-foot mansion, behind Richert Manor, is vacant and in need of a lot of work but has good potential, he said.
Gilkey Creek bridge needs work
Keeler offered a report on the Gilkey Creek bridge over Court Street, which he said is badly in need of repair. He said the limestone structure is starting to cave away and the bridge needs tuckpointing. He said structural engineers are scheduled to examine the bridge later this month and if the bridge is judged to be structurally sound a repair project would be presented to City Council for approval. He said Mott Community College bricklaying students are interested in doing the work, which he hoped would begin in early spring.
Crime down, Burr contracts available
CCNA neighborhood watch chair Mike Herriman reported the number of incidents is down, but that there had been one car theft since the last meeting and reports of packages stolen from some porches in the neighborhood. He also announced that those who wanted to participate in the D.M. Burr Security program could sign up for a partial year at this time even if they didn’t sign up for the usual one-year contract last fall.
Drug activity suspected
A number of residents again complained about suspected drug activity at a house on Court Street owned by a Flint police officer who Herriman said owns several other rental houses in Flint. The house has been the subject of earlier complaints at CCNA meetings, including to Flint Police Chief Tim Johnson in August. Johnson told residents at that meeting he would attend to the issue, but residents said suspect activity continues at the address. Herriman advised people to note times when the activity was highest to help police establish a pattern.
Galloway announced she has appointed CCN resident Heather Kale, whom she defeated for city council in November, to the Zoning Appeals Board.
The next regular CCNA meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, March 15.
EVM staff writer Patsy Isenberg can be reached at email@example.com. EVM editor Jan Worth-Nelson contributed to this report. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.