Giving Away Our Lakefront Park & Historic Firehall

Editorial by David Gordon March 3, 2020

Dear Reader:


I don't know for sure how best to rejuvenate downtown Whitmore Lake and I don't own a crystal ball and I don't have any expertise in urban renewal.  


What I do know is how to ask questions, do research, and let the evidence lead to common-sense conclusions.  It is unfortunate that often our Trustees fail to ask the important questions; especially this one: “Do we know this is what our residents really want?”


Urban renewal experts do exist and the Board should seek them out before taking irreversible action.  The Board also should reach out to the community for ideas and buy-in because there are thousands of smart, experienced people in Northfield Township who would help if they were sincerely invited to participate and their ideas were respected.  


That said, here’s “The Rest of the Story”.

Waterfront Park – Cliff Notes

• Our 23-acre waterfront park was assessed 5 years ago at $2.3M.
• The VanCurlers “gifted” it to the township for $330,000.
• Developer Livonia Builders offered $765,000 for 17 of 23 acres.
• The Board sent in their crack negotiators – Mgr. Steven Aynes and Planner Paul Lippens, to get $1.1M.
• The developer said “No.” Didn’t budget an inch.
• The Board is still moving forward at $765,000, claiming victory.

The majority of our Trustees (all Republicans), are possibly the worst negotiators ever; fiscal conservatives in name only willing to throwing away millions to satisfy their personal agendas and get reelected.

Everyone knows that when you’re making a deal, your bargaining power is only strong if you’re willing to walk away. Our Board negotiates like teenagers buying their first car.

EXAMPLE #1: Possible Loss of $1,000,000+

Nearly five years ago, the VanCurler family “gifted” their 23-acre waterfront property to the township for a song - about 15% of its assessed value. It is the only vacant land on Whitmore Lake.

The Board has been trying to figure out what to do with the property since their “Ribbon-Cutting” ceremony celebrating the “Community Park”. The residents, by a large margin (65%) and in two separate surveys, said they wanted a “Park Only”.

But instead of respecting the majority of residents, this Board (except for Zelenock and Dockett) decided to sell off 17 of the 23 acres for a 90-unit, low-end subdivision. The call it “progress” and say it will help revitalize downtown, but have no evidence to support their claim.

These five Board members declare that the money from the sale will pay for the park, again without evidence.

There are at least two serious problems with their claim - #1 They don’t know what the park will cost because they’ve done no studies for a park or a beach and #2 – residential development does generate extra tax revenue, but it requires more in services resulting in a net loss, not a net gain, in tax revenue.

Appallingly, the Board negotiated their deal without an attorney, a realtor or even an official assessment of the property.

They got an offer of $765,000 for 17 acres and they celebrated, even though the subdivision doesn’t match two separate “Board Approved” plans for the site. “A plan is only a plan,” explained Trustee Janet Chick. The ignored plans cost taxpayers about $50,000 to draft.

The manager’s office costs the taxpayers $125-1500,000/year. Planning costs us $60,000-$100,000/year. Maybe these guys are giving the Board solid advice and are being ignored. Maybe not.

It is interesting to note that two Trustees with decades of business experience (Treasurer Lenore Zelenock, a retired Ford Motor Co. finance executive, and Trustee Wayne Dockett, a long-time downtown shop owner) both voted against moving forward with negotiations.

Worst of all, the other five Trustees refuse to even send residents a letter telling them most of their park is being sold out from under them.

75 Barker Road Firehall “Fire Sale” Cliff Notes:

• The property was appraised for $230,000 two years ago.
• The township realtor listed it for $275,000.
• So, the Board voted to hold a “Special” meeting and to negotiate with only one potential buyer that is offering just $100,000.
• They are ignoring offers ranging from $425,000 to $600,000.

EXAMPLE #2: Possible loss of $500,000 in revenue.

The Board this week held a "Special" meeting to consider selling our shuttered firehouse at 75 Barker Road, which has been mostly vacant for nearly 20 years. Trustee Wayne Dockett is alone in opposing the sale.

The firehouse is one of the only historic buildings downtown and lots of people want to preserve it, especially the local Kiwanis Club, although some residents are ok with demolishing it.

Trustee Tawn Beliger (the one always whining that government wastes money) made the hurried motion to cut a deal. Supervisor Marlene Chockley seconded the motion. Here’s why.

1 – Chockley and Beliger are intensely anti-marijuana and the much bigger ($600k) offer was contingent on the buyer getting a pot license, which they don’t want to grant.
The Planning Commission recommended no distance limits at all on pot stores but the Board imposed a 500’ restriction.

2 - It's an election year and these Five Trustees desperately want to show they did something since 2016.

This really stinks.