By Coner Segren
Residents’ concerns about Land Bank priorities for demolition and the availability of small business grants , updates on a water bill payment assistance program, and a proposed I-475 renovation plan were among topics discussed at the monthly Flint Neighborhoods United meeting.
Residents want demolitions prioritized next to occupied homes, Land Bank survey reveals
The results of a month-long survey about demolition priorities conducted by the Genesee County Land Bank reveal that residents are most concerned about demolishing blighted properties directly next to occupied homes. According to the presentation by community planner Melissa Hartlein, more than 80% of respondents listed this as their number one priority. Other top priorities were areas where people live and properties near or next to schools.
The survey was conducted by the Land Bank to figure out how to reprioritize demolitions after money from the federal Hardest Hit Fund expired earlier this year, Hartlein said. This leaves the Land Bank with a significantly smaller budget to demolish vacant and blighted properties.
Recently, the Land Bank secured nearly $450,000 for demolitions from the Focus on Flint initiative according to Hartlein. “With this funding, we are estimating we will be able to demolish 30 to 35 strategic demolitions across the city,” she said. The Focus on Flint funds came from the C.S. Mott Foundation, which last year asked residents to weigh in on how they would spend $1 million for community improvements. However, this is a small amount compared to the total number of blighted properties in the Land Bank’s inventory, Hartlein said.
“Ultimately, there’s a lot of blight and limited funding,” said Hartlein. “Of the 4,700 properties that are blighted in the City of Flint, this funding will only be able to demolish about one percent of them.”
Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce and General Motors partner for small business grants
The Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce has partnered with General Motors to give grants to small businesses in the Flint area. The grants are part of the Moving Flint Forward program announced by the City last Thursday.
According to Adrian Walker, who handles government affairs and community relations for the Chamber of Commerce, GM provided a grant of $210,000 for the program. From this money, the program will issue around 15 to 20 grants. Walker also said that 10 of those grants will be specifically designated for minority-owned businesses.
Applicants have until 5 p.m. Dec. 30 to apply at https://www.flintandgenesee.org/moving-flint-forward/
Proposed renovation would replace I-475 with boulevard
The City of Flint is seeking community input on a proposed plan to transform I-475 into a boulevard, according to Brian Larkin, Mayor Sheldon Neeley’s chief of staff.The plan was proposed after new state funds were made available to the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) earlier this year. While money was originally allocated to refurbish I-475, the additional funds led MDOT and the City of Flint to consider a more ambitious proposal to fill in I-475 to create new parcels of developable land.
“As you’re traveling on the highway, you would slow down, brought up to grade, and travel along a more pedestrian-friendly streetscape,” said Brian Larkin, Chief of Staff for Mayor Neeley. “Where the interstate was before we have new land to develop parcels on and do different developments, and we would potentially have 30 acres of land.”
The initial plan would renovate a small portion of I-475 from around Fifth Street to Kearsley Street. Larkin saidthe Mayor’s office and MDOT are soliciting community feedback on whether that should be extended potentially all the way to Davison Road.
“The proposed idea with the MDOT dollars instead of just redoing the highway the way it is, is filling in the parcels… the end result is having developable land and we would reduce the lanes of traffic down to boulevard two-directional traffic,” Larkin said.
When I-475 first opened in 1973, it separated several historically black neighborhoods from the rest of Flint. “Residents around the area talked about how [I-475] dislocated people and how you can’t connect to some of the activities going on,” Larkin said. “So, this seemed to be an opportunity to say ‘what does the community want?” and is this something that actually makes sense?”
According to Larkin, the potential renovation would help reconnect the city and help residents experience different parts of the city more easily. “Large amounts of activity are occurring along these places, but they’re disconnected,” he said.
“So, activity at the Farmer’s Market is not connected to activity going on at the Cultural Center, if you’re doing one or the other you get in your car and you are ushered out of the community. If you’re traveling, it’s viewed as two separate places.”
Larkin stressed that all these proposals are strictly theoretical and that nothing is finalized. “This is not a plan that we’re looking to adopt, this is an idea that we’re looking to get feedback on if we should pursue,” he said.
Specifically, any renovation proposal is contingent on the outcome of a feasibility study currently being done by MDOT, as well as feedback from residents. “[MDOT] is going to look at how safely cars can travel at slower speeds, what traffic congestion will look like, and how the rest of the road network would be impacted,” Larkin said.
“That process in ongoing right now… nothing will be built, developed, or come into a plan that is not deemed space, that cannot handle the traffic load, that cannot get speeds down to a more pedestrian-friendly level,” added Larkin.
A few announcements from Mayor Neeley
City Hall remains closed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. However, residents can still utilize a walk-up window installed in building, open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Residents can pay tax and water bills at the window, as well as schedule appointments over the phone to pick up a new water filter at the window. City Hall can be reached at (810) 766-7015.
Illegal dumpers arrested
According to Neeley, the city has made its first arrest for illegal dumping. The city continues to ask residents to report illegal dumping to crimestoppersofflint.org. Tips leading to an arrest will be rewarded up to $1000.
“You can catch one of these illegal dumpers, report them to crimestoppers, you can receive a reward up to $1000,” Neeley said. “We all have smart devices, take a picture of them, take a picture of their license plate… it’s going to take all of us to make this community better.” Tips can be sent to crimestoppers at 1-800-422-JAIL or at crimestoppersofflint.org.
Water Assistance payment program offers up to $75 per month
Flint has started a new water assistance payment program, available to qualifying families. For every dollar that residents pay, the city will match it up to $75 for three months. Residents can call 810-410-2020 to see if you qualify. “We are doing this because we have not shut off any water users inside the city,” Neeley said. “We are making sure the least amongst us have the benefit of access to water.”
On Dec. 14, the Flint City Council will vote on whether to add an additional $20 million to the settlement agreement in the City’s lawsuit over the Flint Water Crisis. If passed it would bring the total settlement amount to $641 million.
Mayor Neeley stressed, “This $20 million dollar proposal comes from our insurance carrier, not from tax dollars to the benefit of residents of the City of Flint.”
More information on the settlement is available at Flintsettlementfacts.org
Flint Public Library reopens Dec. 9 with new restrictions
After closing during Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s three-week pause, the Flint Public Library will reopen at Courtland Center Dec. 9. However, due to spiking COVID rates, Library Director Kay Schwartz announced several new guidelines to prevent transmission of the virus.
“We are asking that everyone limit their visit to 15 minutes,” Schwartz said. “We are not going to be able to open up the annex at Courtland Center which is where the computers are.”
Patrons are encouraged to place holds, either over the phone or online, to provide a speedier checkout. If patrons come in to browse, DVDs, children’s books, music, and new books will now be located in the lobby to make browsing quicker, she said.
The library will remain open from the 9th until Dec. 23rd. Library hours will be the same, Tues. through Thur. 11 am to 7:30 pm, and Fri. and Sat. 9 am to 5:30 pm.
Public can join monthly FNU meetings
Saturday’s FNU meeting was facilitated by Lucille James, vice-president of Flint Neighborhoods United, and Theresa Roach, program director of the Crim Foundation. The meeting was held virtually. The public can join FNU’s monthly meetings by emailing Chris Frye at FNUCommunications@gmail.com to be added to notifications. The next meeting is 9:30 a.m., Saturday, Jan 2, 2021.
EVM reporter Coner Segren can be reached at email@example.com.