A win for the New Buffalo City Council but a loss for the quaint neighborhoods and most likely, many red oak trees. Through poor planning and poor placement, the sidewalks line some streets with a buffer of 2 feet on one side and 10 feet on the other giving the streets a lopsided, asymmetrical appearance that takes away from the small rural neighborhood charm. Let’s face it, this expensive farce gives neighboring communities another opportunity to laugh at our city. Obviously protecting trees or enriching neighborhoods was not the goal of this grant. It appears that the purpose was to hurriedly divide up over half a million federal tax dollars among local contractors including Abonmarche, the project management company that made the decision to hack up the roots on healthy red oak trees and line the streets with poorly planned out sidewalks.
The Michigan Division of the Federal Highway Administration ruled that the city did not commit fraud in the Safe Route to School grant even though it contained false information and the City Council disregarded the Michigan Planning Enabling Act. Article IV, section 125.3861 of that law states, ‘Construction of certain projects in area covered by municipal master plan; approval; initiation of work on project; requirements; report and advice. Sec. 61. (1) A street; square, park, playground, public way, ground, or other open space; or public building or other structure shall not be constructed or authorized for construction in an area covered by a municipal master plan unless the location, character, and extent of the street, public way, open space, structure, or utility have been submitted to the planning commission by the legislative body or other body having jurisdiction over the authorization or financing of the project and has been approved by the planning commission.’ The decision by the City Council to bypass the requirements of State law and not refer the sidewalk project to the Planning Commission demonstrates the reason this law is so important in community planning. Had the Council involved the Planning Commission in the process, perhaps the red oaks would have been saved and the sidewalks placed correctly. Without public oversight, a rogue project manager was left to his own agenda and the charm of little neighborhoods was destroyed. This project is a prime example of the mismanagement of tax dollars and the destruction of neighborhoods.