January 7, 2020

By David Gordon

  • Board to Sell 80% of Park for Peanuts 

  • Betrays Residents, Disses DPG’s “Synthesis Plan”

  • Ignores Own Subcommittee Review

At its first meeting of the year, the Board voted 5-2 to sell off 80% of our only lakefront property to a developer for a subdivision that got a “D” grade from the Board’s own subcommittee.

Supervisor Marlene Chockley and Trustee Tawn Beliger made the motion to sell off 18 of 23 acres for $1.1M even though the property was assessed at $2.3M in 2015.

Clerk Kathy Manley and Trustees Janet Chick and Jacki Otto also voted in favor of the sale, ignoring two township-generated surveys in which the residents said they wanted a “Park Only” by a 2-to-1 margin.

Treasurer Lenore Zelenock and Trustee Wayne Dockett opposed the sale. Both said the issue should be put before the voters. The $1.1M sale price was later removed from the motion for more consideration.

Inexplicably, the Board is negotiating without an attorney or a realtor.

The chosen developer, Livonia Builders, is proposing a subdivision of 90-100 “starter and retirement homes” on the parcel which fronts Main Street and Whitmore Lake, leaving less than five acres for a public park and almost nothing, just under 1/5th of an acre, less than 1% of the total acreage, allocated for future commercial growth.

The park will be effectively much less than five acres because the access road, public parking, retention pond and perimeter path around the whole property will be counted as park. In 2017, the Downtown Planning Group (DPG) plan design promised at least 50% of the land would be park; now it’s less than 20%.

The Board is negotiating without an attorney because long-time township attorney Paul Burns resigned effective Dec. 31 and has not been replaced in the two months since he informed the Board. No realtor was hired “to save on commissions”, according to Township Manager Stephen Aynes, who is negotiating the deal together with Township Planner Paul Lippens.

Five residents spoke at the “First Call to the Public” and pleaded for the Board to respect the residents desire for a “Park Only”. No resident spoke in favor of selling off the property.

“You’ve got no business giving away our park,” said long-time resident Margaret Riddell. “I’d support a millage to keep this property a park,” she added. A park millage has never been on the Board’s agenda.

“Five acres is not enough for 8,300 residents,” said resident Julia Henshaw. “A big park would be a wonderful asset and you’re selling price is much less than what it’s worth.”

The Board bought the property for about $330,000 in 2016, well below its assessed value of $2.3M. The heirs of long-time owner Donald Van Curler essentially “gifted” the land to the township. The Board is considering $1.1M for 18 acres, a price that was set by a developer.

Livonia Builders says their subdivision “will be designed in the new urbanism architectural style” which means homes very close together with tiny yards. That would mean the 138 children they’re expecting will use the public park as their front yard.

“We’re building a park for the developer’s subdivision,” charged Zelenock. “This is a great piece of property and these development proposals are not good enough.”

Jim Nelson chided the Board for ignoring it’s own subcommittee ranking of the project. “The development proposals got a ‘D’ grade in terms of meeting the vision of the Synthesis Plan,” he said. “Your actions are embarrassing.”

David Gordon accused the Board of betraying the residents. “You never seriously considered a “Park Only” plan. You wanted mixed-use so came up with the “Synthesis Plan”. Even that plan promised to retain 50% for a park and plenty of land for business development.”

The VanCurler property next to the U.S. Post Office has been vacant for decades but historically has been used to park cars for all major community events downtown. Under the development proposal, only 105 public parking spaces would be built.

The Livonia Builders’ plan also dictates that the Board must use the money from the sale to build the park and the beachfront. Whether the Board can have that requirement removed is uncertain because they are in a weak bargaining position with only one viable developer left. The other developer needs federal funding for assisted housing and their deadline is mid-January, not enough time for the Board to act.

Zelenock urged the Board to “ask the voters” whether they wanted to sell off their park, Dockett suggested a ballot proposal and Gordon asked the Board to “at least send a letter to residents”.

Otto dismissed the ideas and said anyone who objected could “go get their own signatures” for a referendum if they wanted it on the ballot.

Chick said she’d “talked to a lot of people” who wanted housing on the site. She claimed township surveys do not involve enough residents even though one of the park surveys was sent to every taxpayer.

Chockley said surveys are invalid unless they’re “scientific”, though she did her own “non-scientific” last year. She said a “critical mass” of people were needed to revitalize downtown but when asked how many, she had no answer.

More than three years after buying the land, touting an “innovative and dynamic vision” and spending $50-75,000 for planning, the five Trustees are willing to accept a subdivision as their best option.

• With no real “real-world” information about the impacts.
• No property left open for commercial development.
• No idea of how much the beach might cost or even if it’s feasible.
• And without advice from a realtor or an attorney.


1/7/2020 Meeting documents:

1/7/2020 Indexed Northfield Township Board special meeting LivePacket

1/7/2020 Northfield Township Board special meeting packet addendum. This includes the shameful admission that a D rated project was deemed good enough.

1/7/2020 Northfield Township Board of Trustees Special Meeting Packet  - this is the Township original, un indexed