Jan. 6 2011 12:00 AM

Lansing City Council discusses the controversial Waverly Road sidewalk project

Thursday, Jan. 6 — Shortly after the Lansing City Council unanimously re-elected Council President A’Lynne Robinson and Vice President Kathie Dunbar to their respective positions, a few members touched on the first controversy of the new year: a proposed sidewalk project along Waverly Road.

And just as quickly, the Wood/Hewitt faction on City Council expressed its opposition to the Bernero administration initiative.

The $1.3 million project includes portions of the city and Lansing Township, essentially connecting Frances Park on the south side of the Grand River with the west entrance of Grand River Park on the north side. But to do that, a sidewalk is needed north of the bridge on Waverly Road and along a portion of Old Lansing Road, which is Lansing Township property.

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Jessica Yorko, whose ward includes part of the proposed sidewalk, broached the topic during the members’ comment period. She hopes the project is able to move forward because “people have been asking” about improvements for the past three years.

“I’m very supportive of changes in the area, and I’ll continue to advocate for them (residents),” Yorko said.

But First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt thinks Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero is sticking his nose into a township issue, “encumbering another municipality.”

“We still have to make sure we are conscious and support (the township’s) efforts, not dictate to them based on our wants,” he said during the meeting.

Hewitt said at the meeting that the project is “not actually in the city of Lansing.”

However, based on details the city has provided and measuring distances on a map independently, it appears more than one-third of it is in the city.

Hewitt also claimed the $1.3 million price tag is the amount the city and township would pay just to match potential grant funding for the project. However Finance Director Jerry Ambrose and the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, Randy Hannan, both said that was false.

Hannan said there is the possibility of getting up to 80 percent of the costs covered through state and federal grants. If that happens and costs are split evenly between the city and the township, each would pay $130,000.

Lansing Township Supervisor John Daher said he supports the project and has agreed with the city that if 80 percent is secured through grants, the township would help pay for it.

“I’m in favor of it but the cost can’t be prohibitive,” Daher said Wednesday. “It sounds like an interesting endeavor. I’ve always felt that area would be a way to connect the city and the township.”

Daher also rejects the notion that whatever money is collected would be better spent on other infrastructure projects.

“What other projects? Where? There are a lot of areas in town that need bike trails and walking paths, but this is a very unique area.”

Hewitt said in an interview he could support the sidewalk if Lansing Township pays for it, but that’s based on his belief that the sidewalk is virtually all in the township.

At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood agrees with Hewitt. She thinks it is inaccurate to say the two municipalities are practicing “regionalism.”

“Regionalism means showing support (for other municipalities’ projects). It means you don’t step into your neighbors’ business,” Wood said before the meeting.

Dunbar ended the Council’s discussion on the issue by agreeing with Yorko that residents in southwest Lansing have sought a sidewalk for years. Even if the project is mostly in Lansing Township, Dunbar said political analyst Bill Ballenger’s comments to City Pulse Wednesday about the sidewalk serving “power walking women from Moores Park” and “foot traffic from Jolly Road that is mostly lower income, largely African American” was “extremely offensive.”

“This has become a personal issue and is about our residents,” Dunbar said.