2017 was certainly a year full of activity in East Grand Rapids. From new businesses coming into Gaslight Village to safety initiatives, road construction and an update of our Master Plan, our team has been hard at work ensuring EGR continues to be an attractive place to live, work, and play.
In 2015, our residents passed a millage to fund much-needed street and sidewalk improvements. We’ve been committed to fulfilling our pledge to voters by aggressively working on our streets and sidewalks. Our signature project in 2017 was Wealthy Street in Gaslight Village.
Wealthy Street Road Construction
Below Wealthy Street was a 100-year-old water main that needed to be replaced. Completely removing and replacing the main would have shut down the street for months, which would have been difficult for our businesses. Instead, our DPW team worked to find a better option, eventually partnering with a company to install a “cured-in-place” water main. This technology has been common for sanitary sewers, but is relatively new for water mains. In fact, this project was the first in West Michigan.
Thanks to the efforts of our DPW team, we were able to complete the project in just over one month – with Wealthy Street remaining open. We have replaced and improved many water and sewer lines and have a long-term plan for continued improvement.
In addition to Wealthy Street, more than 16 miles of roads were resurfaced or repaired and a total of 667 5x5 squares of sidewalks were replaced. Other improvements included targeted grinding of 6,709 lineal feet of sidewalks to even out and improve usability in a cost-effective way.
This year, we will continue to work diligently on updating our streets and sidewalks. Our 2018 signature project will be the repaving of Breton, which we know will be disruptive, but it will be a much-needed improvement once complete. For more information on construction, click here.
A major undertaking this year has been updating our Master Plan, which serves as a roadmap for future land-use and planning decisions. We began with kick-off sessions this fall where residents, business owners and employees were invited to ask questions, make suggestions and voice concerns. These were led by our partner firm, MKSK, who has been tasked with looking at demographic changes, national market trends and technological innovations to bring new insights and fresh perspective to the future of East.
The process continues into 2018 during our Planning Commission meetings, which are held the second Tuesday of the month. An initial draft of the Master Plan and upcoming meetings can be found here.
A major part of the Master Plan is looking at Gaslight Village and what we can do to ensure it is a premier choice for commercial activity. We are fortunate to have such an iconic commercial center that brings people from all over West Michigan – and beyond – to shop, dine and relax. Gaslight Village has evolved over the years with some favorite destinations leaving as new ones come in. We are currently at a 98 percent occupancy rate, which is just spectacular.
This year alone, we welcomed About Face, Athleta, Carolina Low Country Kitchen, Duffield Lane, Kilwins and Wok & Mortar into the Village. The choice of these businesses to open here is a strong indicator that our Village remains an attractive place to “set up shop.”
If you have not visited each of these new businesses, I urge you to do so! Gaslight Village has so much to offer — and we all need to help support our local merchants.
Our Natural Resources
In an effort to further improve management of invasive species, the City has become a member of the West Michigan Conservation Network. Composed of environmental groups, governmental organizations, non-profit organizations and private citizens, the network addresses invasive species on a local scale. In EGR, the group is assisting staff with creating a plan to identify which invasive species are in the community and how to manage them.
We ask residents to be very careful when disposing non-native plants and foliage. Dumping water garden plants into the lake or tossing ornamental plants into the woods can have adverse long-term effects.
Parks and Recreation
Our Parks & Recreation Department has continued to expand its programming, including allowing group activity (commercial and non-commercial) in John Collins Park. The new policy allows limited group activity to take place, such as exercise or yoga classes, with restrictions. We feel this new policy creates an opportunity for increased access of our park – while not impeding passive enjoyment of our beautiful spaces.
John Collins Park
In early October, Parks & Recreation also implemented new registration software that has many user-friendly features, including easy catalog viewing and online registration on your smartphone or tablet.
Also, if you haven’t visited the City’s website in awhile, you will notice it has a brand new look. City staff worked on this project for months to help make the site more user-friendly and to ensure residents and business owners have easy access to information.
Safety was certainly at the forefront of our community over the past year. We continue to be one of the safest cities in Michigan with a population over 10,000, thanks to our 28 sworn officers, 20 crossing guards, four bike patrol interns and two public safety clerks.
Children check out public safety equipment during the annual Public Safety Open House
Though our Public Safety team works extremely hard for our community, taking more than 5,000 calls for service last year alone, we’re not immune from crime. We saw a marked increase in the number of home and vehicle break-ins in 2017, the majority occurring on homes or vehicles with unlocked doors.
Because our public safety team works to maintain such a safe community, we sometimes have a false sense of security and overlook basic safety principles. Unfortunately, crime can happen anywhere so it is important to take a few minutes to ensure you have locked your doors as an essential first step in proactive property protection.
Last summer, residents Brooke and Daniel Mehney witnessed suspicious behavior from three individuals loitering in their neighbor’s driveway. The Mehneys immediately took action by notifying the homeowners, effectively interrupting an attempted property theft, and forcing the criminals to flee on foot and bike. Without hesitation, the couple chased down and apprehended one of the suspects, which led to the recovery of all the stolen property and the arrest of a suspect.
This is a perfect example of residents seeing something and not only saying something, but doing something. I commend Mr. and Mrs. Mehney for their fast actions and commitment to community through these efforts. For their efforts, The Mehneys received a Chief’s Citation Award.
While we never want to encourage residents to put themselves in danger, we do encourage you to be aware and to report suspicious behavior when you see it by calling 911 or our non-emergency Public Safety line, 616.949.7010. If you aren’t sure if you should make the call, make the call. Public Safety would always prefer you err on the side of caution.
This past fall, we received a number of questions and concerns over different methods we could employ to improve the safety of student commuters. I’m so pleased to see our community engaged in a greater dialogue about safety. We have already made some immediate improvements as a result of these concerns and we are evaluating other suggestions.
As a City, we have to ensure that every decision we make is sustainable and positively impacts our residents and visitors. It’s important to remember that safety features you see in one community do not always translate here. While on the surface, an idea may make sense, there may be long-term consequences we are unaware of. This is particularly important when it comes to safety, traffic and infrastructure – and why we rely on studies and both internal and external experts to guide our actions.
Public Works is currently working to collect data to confirm whether we are using crosswalk enhancements properly. This will be vital in helping us to continue making fact-based decisions.
We are also working with East Grand Rapids Public Schools to create safety videos that can be shown in the beginning of the school year and in the spring that will focus on crosswalks, bikes, mopeds and driving safety.
While the City and Schools can do many things to help aid in safe commuting, safety is a collective responsibility. Continued dialogue with your children and teens about safe practices while walking, biking, riding a moped or driving to school is critical to ensure they have a safe commute. And please, make sure they always have a light on their bicycle when riding in twilight conditions.
Many years ago, my first job was babysitting for EGR families. My mother told me I always had to leave the house better than when I found it – whether it was doing dishes or picking up toys, I had to make an improvement. That has stuck with me and is how I now approach my tenure as Mayor. When I reflect back on what we’ve done the past few years, I can say we’re leaving it better than we found it. When first elected, I promised to evaluate and make a plan to improve infrastructure, and we have indeed done so. Sewers and streets may not always be the most exciting topic, but they are crucial to our everyday life.
In East Grand Rapids, our citizens are fully engaged in making our community a better place – a trait I’m so proud of. As we head into 2018, I hope you will continue to stay active by coming to commission meetings, following us on Facebook or just dropping a line with questions you have.
If you haven’t already signed up for the City’s newsletter, please visit www.eastgr.org to do so. This, along with our Facebook page, is the most comprehensive way to be informed.
Thank you for choosing East Grand Rapids as your home!