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Citizens’ group presents requests for Lakeshore Drive

(Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette) Ben Ciavola, a member of the Houghton Parking Deck Citizens Group, reads an open letter to the Houghton City Coiuncil at its meeting Wednesday. The group is seeking more public input into the redevelopment of the parking deck area.

HOUGHTON — A citizens’ group seeking more public input on redevelopment of the large parking deck area on Lakeshore Drive submitted an open letter to the Houghton City Council at its meeting Wednesday.

The letter, read by Houghton Parking Deck Citizens Group member Ben Ciavola, requested the city add two members from the citizens’ group to the city’s Lakeshore Drive Redevelopment Committee, which is conducting negotiations with Marquette-based developer The Veridea Group. The citizens group also requested Houghton form its own process for soliciting feedback from the public separate from Veridea’s.

“We recognize that such an undertaking might appear daunting and consuming of the city’s limited resources, and we are willing to work with the city and all other stakeholders in exploring any and all ways to make it a success,” Ciavola said.

In August, the city council voted to enter into negotiations with Veridea on a potential mixed-use development on the parking deck space, located on two parcels on Lakeshore Drive between Quincy and Huron streets.

The city chose Veridea over two other developers after reviewing their responses to a request for qualifications and hearing their presentations at an earlier August meeting. Most residents who spoke at the second meeting had objected to moving forward at that time, citing concerns with the scale of the development, potential impact on sight-lines and potential pitfalls of selling the space to one developer.

The mixed-use development shown by Veridea was a $50 million project including hotel and retail space, as well as public access points. However, City Manager Eric Waara has said the renderings shown by Veridea were to show what the company could do, and do not necessarily represent the eventual end product.

The city’s committee, which includes city officials and local business owners, first met with Veridea on Oct. 14. Veridea also met with city officials and representatives from the citizen group last week.

The city provided a flow chart to the public Wednesday showing the development process. Spots for public input are marked at several steps, including meetings held by Veridea, the council’s considerations of the overall development plan and the final development agreement, a third-party appraisal and the Planning Commission’s site plan review. If the city approves of the plan, the project could be completed in 2021 or 2022.

The flowchart is available online at cityofhoughton.com/news-special.php.

Ciavola said the flow chart did not affect the group’s concerns. The group’s two main issues, he said, are a lack of input in the future of the property, and the city choosing a developer before the public could weigh in on the site. While the parking deck area is mentioned in the city’s master plan, it did not mention any specific aim of development, the group said in the letter.

“In particular, the group notes that the only model that has been discussed involves the sale of the property to a commercial developer, and that no other options have even been proposed for study,” Ciavola said.

After finishing, Ciavola asked those in the crowd who agreed to signal their support. Most of the 30-plus audience members raised their hands.

Waara gave an update Wednesday on the redevelopment, which he said would improve the city’s economy, helping improve other municipal services, while also addressing a longstanding problem in the city’s aging parking decks.

“We appreciate the community’s strong interest and excitement for the project and plan to provide additional opportunities for public input,” he said. “Veridea has also indicated its intent to do so.”

The process will also include an engineering analysis of the decks, market research, environmental studies and a third-party assessment of parking and traffic, Waara said.

The citizens’ group will have its third meeting 6:30 p.m., Nov. 19, at the Super 8 in Houghton. Ciavola said the group will discuss next steps and go over any additional correspondence it has with the city or Veridea.

After the meeting, Waara said he would be willing to consider the group’s proposal.

“I’ll certainly talk to the committee and see where this should go,” he said. “But we did put together a fairly diverse group of people, some of which have participated in these other meetings as well. This is moving in the right direction. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people think it’s moving faster than it actually is.”

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