Planners set new vision for North 3rd Street

MARQUETTE – In coming years, the North Third Street corridor will be a bit taller and much more pedestrian friendly, if a group of planning experts has its way.

The group of urban planners presented a series of broad recommendations for the area Monday evening at the close of a series of intensive community planning meetings – called a charrette.

One of the main challenges facing the district – the section of Third Street located between Ridge Street and Fair Avenue – is that it is becoming steadily less appealing to pedestrians, according to head planner Bob Gibbs of Gibbs Planning Group in downstate Birmingham.

Many visitors to Third Street establishments drive directly to their destination and then leave, he said. At the same time, businesses are often in need of additional parking, and buy up nearby lots for space. Gibbs said numerous Third Street business owners told him they had purchased or were thinking of purchasing property to make way for additional parking.

Although Gibbs said it is an understandable move by the entrepreneurs, such behavior increases the need for residents to drive between businesses and results in traffic regulations being changed to further cater to vehicles.

“We see this all over the place, where a nice street – building by building, property by property, over two or three decades – can transfer from a street and neighborhood shopping district to a highway strip center,” Gibbs said. “I have a fear that (Third Street is) about halfway toward becoming this.”

He said the solution is a wholesale approach that will make Third Street more attractive to walkers and bikers, while making the entire district a destination.

Gibbs and his team will spend the coming days crafting a form-based code to control future development along Third Street.

In addition to increasing public space, Gibbs said the code will include a number of very specific suggestions.

It will break the corridor into three sections. The north and south portions will be zoned similarly and buildings will be allowed to be built one floor higher than the current limit of 30 feet. Buildings in the central section will be allowed to go two floors higher.

Setbacks – there is currently no setback regulation on the front side of properties – will also change. New construction would be required to be set back five feet from the sidewalk and 15 feet from the back lot line.

“Every property would be allowed to have a little additional height,” Gibbs said. “All in all, we feel we’re increasing development rights for the real estate and helping protect the neighborhood.”

Among other items, the code will also stipulate that the sidewalk-facing wall of new construction be made of about 60 percent clear glass.

The group also suggested using better bicycle-related signage and street markings, as well as creating a designated bike lane running south from Fair Avenue, and a bike sharrow – a lane shared by vehicular and bicycle traffic – heading north.

The proposed form-based code should be completed in about three weeks and will then need to be approved by city staff, as well as the necessary city boards and commissions.

The five-day planning process was grant-funded. The city of Marquette, with support from the Marquette Downtown Development Authority and Northern Michigan University, received a $75,000 “placemaking” grant from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.