By JOY BROWN
Findlay City Council unanimously agreed Tuesday to allow administrators to apply for a grant that would help pay for downtown traffic and safety improvements.
It also consented to a controversial Lye Creek project, which will also be paid for with grant money. It will return a portion of the creek’s west bank near the Blanchard River to its natural habitat.
The traffic-related vote was approved by emergency measure, which means it takes immediate effect and can’t be overturned by the public.
Prior to the roll call vote, Woodcliff Drive resident Barrie Lineken called downtown revitalization efforts worthwhile, and worthy of pursuing, but urged council members not to pass the resolution by emergency.
Councilman-At-Large Tom Shindledecker disagreed, saying city government and economic development officials, who have worked on developing downtown proposals, “have shown that we’ve listened to the people” by revising things “considerably.”
Administrators now have until May 4 to submit a grant application to the Ohio Department of Transportation. Recipients of the competitive awards will be notified in August, the state has said.
Findlay will be applying for “Transportation Alternative Program” funding. Based on traffic data and public input already received, the city hopes to do “bump-outs” of curbs at intersections, and to install some medians, signs, and mid-block crosswalks on certain Main Street blocks. It also hopes to build a bicycle lane on Cory Street that would connect the downtown to the University of Findlay.
The grant could pay for up to 80 percent of the project.
Service-Safety Director Paul Schmelzer reiterated that council’s affirmative vote merely gives the city permission to apply for the grant. If money is awarded, the project “comes back to this body” after a design is finalized.
Council will ultimately decide whether to accept any funding “based upon the scope that’s accepted by ODOT,” he said.
The downtown traffic proposals have been scaled back, and no longer include controversial ideas such as reverse-angle parking and fewer traffic lanes on Main Street.
The Lye Creek project has also faced criticism. But a late surge of support helped sell the idea to council.
Two citizens spoke to council in favor of it on Tuesday.
Christopher Neely, who lives not far from the creek at 841 Hawthorne Road, said the 2007 flood left the neighborhood with “scarred and empty lots” where homes once stood.
“This deterioration will continue unless we make plans to step in,” Neely said. He called the creek project a good water-quality plan that will also provide the neighborhood with a country living ambiance.
“At this point, Lye Creek is a muddy, polluted ditch,” but has the potential to be more, Neely said.
Councilwoman-At-Large Anne Spence, who voted in favor of the creek project, said the majority of residents she recently spoke with said they were in favor of it. Some are concerned about the project becoming a catch-all for litter, she said, and she hopes the city can organize volunteer crews to keep the area clean.
A petition drive conducted by a nearby resident earlier this year showed the majority who signed the petition were against the project, and some have spoken unfavorably about it at council meetings.
First Ward Councilwoman Holly Frische and 6th Ward Councilman Andy Douglas voted no.
Frische said she talked with many of the critics, which was why she voted against the project.
“…When I walked it (neighborhood), everyone I spoke with had concerns,” Frische said after the meeting. “At that point it was past the point of give or take, and they just weren’t happy about it.”
“I don’t think anyone there had an agenda. I just don’t think they liked it. It’s not like it’s going to make any big difference in preventing flooding,” she said.
Besides the potential for littering, concerns that residents mentioned included the possibility of more nuisance wildlife moving into the area, additional vegetation that they think might worsen flooding, and the creation of a haven for drug dealers.
Councilman Douglas attempted to get emergency wording removed from the legislation, but no one seconded his motion Tuesday.
“The objections raised so far really didn’t change my mind from the get-go,” said 2nd Ward Councilman Randy Van Dyne. “I think there’s been more support than was thought. This will return the habitat back to its original condition.”
The city is responding to naysayers with a compromise plan that will create a “riparian corridor” only along the western side of Lye Creek. Only one private property would abut the project there.
The original plan had called for addressing 66,000 square feet of flood-prone land owned by the city and Hancock County on both sides of the creek.
A Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant, totaling about $37,000, will pay for planting native trees, shrubs and grass along the bank.