Resilient Neighborhoods: Green infrastructure would address parking, drainage issues on Grand River

Gallery owner Asia Hamilton knows that popularity can come with its own challenges. She's the founder and owner of Norwest Gallery of Art, a contemporary art space located in the city's historic Rosedale Park neighborhood that specializes in African and African-American artwork.

While her gallery can draw anywhere from 50 to 100 people for an event, parking has been an issue for visitors. That has especially been the case since the city completed a new streetscape along Grand River Avenue where Norwest Gallery of Art makes its home. 

"We need parking, because the parking now is dangerous," says Hamilton. "The way they've created the new streets. It didn't create more spots, and it made theAsia Hamilton (Nick Hagen) street more compact. So we've seen a lot more damage to cars."

The streetscape, which the city completed last year, stretches along Grand River Avenue for 2.8 miles between Berg and the Southfield freeway. The new setup features on-street parking, pedestrian islands, mid-block crossings, and a two-way cycle track. While some residents appreciate the slower pace of traffic along the corridor, others like Hamilton are frustrated by the new parking situation.

Beyond that, the gallery owner has to contend with the fact that the commercial strip where her business is located gets a lot of foot traffic. Norwest Gallery of Art sits right next door to Pages Bookshop, which hosts book signings and other events. The gallery's building complex is also home to H&M Style Lounge and Chill Room and Pressed Juice Bar. It's also just across the street from a barbershop, Cutz Lounge, and the eatery Aunt Betty's Cafe.

While Hamilton does have permission for her customers to use a doctor's office down the street during off hours, during crowded events visitors are usually in for a long walk if they want to check out the gallery. 

"[They've had to] get creative," she says. "Now that we have a nightclub down the street by me and Pages and the juice bar next door. It's gotten really busy over here."

A parking lot using green infrastructure to help drain excess stormwater is being planned for this site along Grand River. (Dave Lewinski)A "green" approach to parking

Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation (GRDC), a local nonprofit and the owner of the building complex where Norwest Gallery of Art is located, wants to do something to help with the parking situation by building a new parking lot at the site. It's not a new endeavor, although the parking lot's implementation was delayed around the start of the pandemic. 

The project, known as the Grand River Green Lot, would transform two vacant parcels at 19540 Grand River Ave. into a new parking area. One parcel is owned by GRDC and the other belongs to a neighboring business, Universal Liquor, which is collaborating with the nonprofit on the effort. 

Located at the site of an improperly demolished building, the site currently offers no legal access to motor vehicles. In addition to a new concrete lot that would create seven new parking spaces, the project would also feature outdoor event seating and make use of green stormwater infrastructure to address drainage issues. 

"We would divert the stormwater runoff off of our building and create a rain garden to dump the water, both from his building, the party store onto this green lot,"  says Tom Ridgeway, GRDC's Construction and Facilities Manager. 

This project isn't GRDC's first foray into green infrastructure. The nonprofit's GrandGrand River WorkPlace (Dave Lewinski) River WorkPlace at 19120 Grand River Ave. features green parking with permeable pavement and a 1,000-gallon cistern to catch water from its roof.

High water bills have been an issue for GRDC's tenants at the complex, due to the way the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department assesses drainage charges on hard surfaces that send rainfall and snow melt into the sewer system. Starting in 2016, DWSD began charging a drainage fee of $750 per impervious acre per month to more than 20,000 parcels around the city.

Concerns from GRDC's tenant businesses, as well as discussions with DWSD helped spur the effort to create the green parking lot. Hamilton says she's definitely been feeling the pinch from these fees.

"My business water bill is higher than my home water bill. I'm pretty disappointed that's the way that is," says Hamilton. 

Pages Bookshop and Norwest Gallery of Art. (Dave Lewinski)Moving forward

In 2015, GRDC was awarded a $160,000 Kresge Innovative Projects: Detroit grant to pursue the green parking lot. DWSD and U-D Mercy's Detroit Collaborative Design Center have also contributed to the effort. 

At this point, the design and an environmental study for the green lot have been completed. But rising construction costs, exacerbated by the pandemic, have delayed implementation. So far about a third of the $150,000 needed to build the lot has been raised. According to GRDC Program Manager Becki Kenderes fundraising efforts are still underway to close the gap for the rest of that amount.

"We've been applying for grants over the past year," she says. "Unfortunately we've been stuck trying to raise that last little bit of funds needed. We still absolutely want to complete the project."

Kenderes believes building the green lot would be beneficial to all parties involved in a number of ways; she believes it will reduce bills for GRDC's business tenants, help the environment, ease the burden of parking in the area, and reclaim an underutilized space for the community. 

For her part, Hamilton is eagerly awaiting the day when construction is completed and the green lot becomes a reality.

"We need parking," she says. "I look forward to a [new] lot. I'm excited about it. I'll be glad when it happens." 

All photos by David Lewinksi, except where otherwise noted.

Resilient Neighborhoods is a reporting and engagement series that examines how Detroit residents and community development organizations are working together to strengthen local neighborhoods. It's made possible with funding from the Kresge Foundation.
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