SAWYER — The public got a look at “not set in stone” design plans for the future of the Sawyer Road Corridor during a meeting held May 1 at the Section House Wedding + Events Venue, 5896 Sawyer Road.
Township Supervisor David Bunte, Vita Khosti and Eric Neagu of the Antero Group, and Michelle Kelly of Upland Design Ltd. presented multiple aspects of the plan via a slide show and took questions from the full-house audience.
Bunte said the presentation (part of a consulting agreement between the Township and the Antero Group) was the culmination of about six months of work that included public meetings and a survey on the township website.
Those attending also had the opportunity to view project proposals and different design theme options on a series of display boards set up inside Section House. All were invited to talk with presenters later in the evening as wells as to fill out cards giving their opinions, priorities and preferences on the proposed project.
“What we’re hopeful we’ll get … from you is feedback” Neagu said to those assembled on May 1. “What works and what doesn’t work, what do you like, what don’t you like. We’re not going to make everybody happy, but we’re going to try our best that we solve the big problems and are as aggressive as possible on some of the smaller ones.”
He said Sawyer Road has become an important part of the region.
“Part of our drive here was to help business owners, the community (and residents) think through how do we make this a better, more functional corridor?”
Neagu noted that the corridor is a complicated area with an interstate “that just cuts right through” and a lot of stakeholders including businesses, residents, the state Department of Transportation, and utilities.
Chikaming Township is collaborating with Berrien County to develop the corridor plan for the business district extending from Red Arrow Highway through downtown Sawyer to Flynn Road (where the County Road Department is currently reconstructing the road and installing new curbs and drive entrances).
The Sawyer Road Corridor project will follow that road work (with the timeline to be decided by factors such as securing grants and availability of contractors). The project is slated to include streetscape work; a central “Sawyer Square” public park at the site once occupied by a fire station along with other possible “pocket parks;” efforts to improve and expand the parking situation; and the design and placement of wayfinding signs throughout the area.
“Obviously these take a long time to go from start to finish – years in the making – so your patience is greatly appreciated,” Bunte said.
The current design and engineering portion of the process is funded by an 80-20 percent USDA Rural Development grant. Neagu said the plan is to pursue another grant in June for the next steps.
The Sawyer Road Corridor project is divided into three “character areas” between Red Arrow Highway and Flynn Road – “Red Arrow” to the west, “Truck Stop” in the middle, and “Downtown Sawyer” east of the railroad tracks.
Khosti noted that businesses are scattered throughout the length of the corridor, demonstrating the need to give pedestrians access to the entire area from Red Arrow to downtown.
The presentation included slides and information on everything from sidewalks (which later sparked discussion on the possibility of adding more to connect the Red Arrow Highway section to the rest of the corridor) and traffic counts (showing more than 42,000 vehicles passing daily on I-94 and 3,000-plus on Sawyer Road near the railroad tracks) to “after” renderings of various portions of the corridor (including several; views of the Sawyer Square park) and a map showing 30 business locations scattered throughout the corridor.
Much of the May 1 session was spent on parking issues in the downtown Sawyer area (the top response to a survey question asking “What are the main issues and challenges of Sawyer?” was “parking.”
Initial streetscape plans show the number of public spaces along Sawyer Road remaining at around 29 spots (with a potential motorcycle space) despite the area being altered by streetscape features.
A parking survey of the downtown area (separate from the aforementioned survey on the corridor) shows 236 current spots in various private lots with the potential for 328 (an increase of 92 spaces) if recommended changes were made (these would be voluntary and up to those who own the parking lots).
The importance of wayfinding signage that will direct people to available parking and other amenities was stressed during the presentation.
“What we want to do is build out some kind of a wayfinding plan that tells people where to go and what’s here,” Neagu said, adding that attractions near Sawyer also could be part of the signage.
The public survey results indicated strong support for the following: “Sawyer Road would benefit from improved walking and bike paths” (67 percent of respondents strongly agreed); and “Increasing access to more active recreation uses, including parks and outdoor dining will make Sawyer Road more attractive to residents and businesses” (58 percent strongly agreed).
To view the Sawyer Streetscape Preliminary Rendering as presented on May 1, go to www.chikaming township.org.
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