Downtown Northville to remain open to traffic after court ruling

Posted at 9:57 PM, May 02, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-02 22:21:30-04

NORTHVILLE, Mich. (WXYZ) — An ongoing legal battle in Northville is keeping the downtown streets open. Last year, Northville City Council approved a plan to close a section of downtown during the warmer months so restaurants and pedestrians could have more space. It was supposed to begin this week, but before it could begin a judge granted an injunction to a group of residents suing the city. That injunction means for now, the streets remain open.

Downtown on Thursday, the debate was well known to many residents we spoke to.

"Everyone I speak to speaks very highly of the time the streets were closed and are pretty disappointed," Jeffery Phillippart said of the injunction. “We’ve turned it into some sort of political movement that it doesn't need to be, we’re talking about 400 yards of street closure."

Philippart and friends brought their kids downtown and say they come downtown often, especially when the streets were closed. His family lives within walking distance, and says diverted traffic for him hasn't been an issue.

"To me, when the roads were closed for the last few years, it was really unique to the city," Philippart said. "It was really fun for me and my family, it was really good for the businesses around here."

What began as a temporary move to expand outdoor seating for businesses during COVID ending up gaining popularity among some visitors and downtown businesses who wanted the closures to stay long term.

One of those business owners is William Hundley who owns Tuscan, a Deli and Cafe on Main Street.

“We feel like there’s a better climate for business, for community, so that’s why we’re in support of it,” Hundley said. "We see all of the positives so it's a lot of fun for us, and I know there’s two sides for every story.”

Hundley was supportive last spring when the city approved a plan to keep a small part of Main Street and Center Street closed to traffic annually from May until November, but not everyone was on board.

“For that short period of time (during COVID) that was a good thing, and I'm glad we did that, but now it’s a different time,” said Dennis Engerer, a Northville resident and physical therapist with an office just outside the closures on Main Street.

He worries the closures limit traffic into the area and says they also limit parking options for his customers.

“People who come to see me are handicap or in wheelchairs or walkers and they don't want to be inconvenienced by driving around and trying to find parking,” Engerer said.

Engerer is part of a group called "Let’s Open Northville" which filed a lawsuit against the City. A few weeks ago a judge ruled in their favor, putting the closure this summer on hold for now.

“Determinations like this to unilaterally close down everything has been done by the Council and the Mayor and the City Manager,” said Northville resident and member of the group Steve Pichan.

Pichan also worries a new development nearby will further limit parking options, and says the closures have diverted traffic to nearby residential streets.

"We definitely experience more traffic as a result of the closures," Pichan said. "There's certainly a lot of people who have been vocal about that."

“With the streets closed it’s unbelievable how much traffic is going up and down those residential streets,” said another resident and member of the group Robert Sochacki. "The business part is just these couple blocks, the rest of the city is residential."

Northville Mayor Brian Turnbull says he's also heard that concern.

“We don't want to affect the traffic going into residential streets and it's done that a little bit, I'm cognizant of that,” Turnbull said. "We have to balance those things for the betterment of the community, the neighbors and all of our businesses in town."

Mayor Turnbull says the City feels they ultimately have the ability to make this decision regarding a City street, but says in the end this question may end up on the ballot in November. Both sides supported that suggestion.

"Yeah put it to a vote, great idea," Sochacki said.

"What I'm hoping is they allow the people that live in town, that have businesses to decide," added Engerer.

“Yeah I think if they put that to a vote that would be the right thing to do because it doesn't seem to be getting resolved in City Council currently,” Philippart said. "I don't think it'd even be close I think the street closures would win by a landslide."

The streets will be closed this weekend due to a special event which is still allowed despite the injunction. As for the rest of the summer, the City is working to appeal the judge's injunction so they can allow the street closures to take place.