July 13 2017 09:27 AM

Last-minute suit puts Ormond Park entrance in limbo

In 1994, Peter Wood and Merry Stanford were looking for a home to settle into at night after long days of working with others’ problems. Both are mental health professionals.

When they were shown the property on Green Street, it was perfect. The Realtor, Wood recalled, touted the wildlife that the wooded esker and green space would bring. And it did. But it’s the sounds that please him most now.

“The sounds of the kids playing basketball,” he said of his favorite part of living beside the threatened park.

“The sounds of the kids laughing as they are going through the esker.”When the city stopped putting new nets on the hoops in the park during the great recession, Wood took it upon himself to do so.

The solitude of the morning is also a key moment for him and his beloved 8.2- acre Ormond Park on Lansing’s east side. He said he often practices tai chi there.

“I can look up,” he said, “and see a deer passing through.”

That tranquility was shattered last week when contractors for the city began tearing out trees and feeding them into a wood chipper. The removals were the first step in building a paved entryway to Groesbeck Golf Course through the neighborhood park.

Neighbors oppose the plan, but Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero has said it is part of his three-step plan to make the sagging golf course profitable.

But the construction was stopped Monday. Wood filed suit against the city and Bernero, alleging violations of the Michigan Environmental Protection Act.

Monday morning, Ingham County Circuit Judge James Jamo issued a temporary restraining order preventing the city from proceeding with plans to begin digging the earth or removing any more trees to prepare the way for the entry drive.

The lawsuit alleges that the city’s plans “will likely cause pollution from runoff on the paved impervious surface of the road, and will also likely cause particulate pollution, dust and air pollution from vehicle emissions, and will impair or destroy the use and enjoyment of Ormond Park and the Mason Esker adjacent to it.”

It also alleges the plan will disturb the wildlife, including plants and animals. The plan, the lawsuit further alleges, failed to “consider and utilize feasible and prudent alternatives.”

City officials asked Jamo to reconsider the order on Tuesday, but he declined, finding failing to continue the order could result in irreparable harm to the environment. He stressed that his ruling was not a reflection on the larger case brought by Wood, which will have another hearing at 9 a.m. July 20.

“Of course we will honor the court’s decision and look forward to the opportunity to present our case at the July 20 hearing,” wrote Randy Hannan, Bernero’s chief of staff, in an email Tuesday. “We remain confident that the law supports the city’s position in this matter.”

On Monday morning, six activists and neighbors gathered in the park sharing coffee and doughnuts, preparing for a race between the arrival of construction workers and the launching of Wood’s court action. They were greeted by a stark white sign, framed on either side by bright orange construction cones, announcing the park was closed. Muddy tire tracks scarred the lawn of the park, and piles of thick logs were stacked in several locations, surrounded by an orange construction fence. Trees between the park’s manicured green lawn and Grand River Avenue were cut down, leaving a gaping hole in the protection treeline.

A bright red metal swing set sat in the parking lot atop a plastic climbing wall. The metal supports were bent and dented.

The plan to build the entryway came to the public’s attention in May. It’s been intertwined with a controversial plan to hand over management of golf course to the Lansing Entertainment and Public Facilities Authority, an independent city agency, in a bid to reduce what Bernero said amounted to a $24 per-person subsidy for the golf games there. That subsidy, he said, came through the parks millage.

That management transfer, he said, was the first step to increasing revenue and decreasing the subsidy. The second step was a covered deck at the aging clubhouse for events. The final step was to construct the entryway off Grand River to increase visibility and reduce golfer traffic through the surrounding neighborhood.

The new entrance will cost $424,000, Bernero said — $39,000 more than Brett Kaschinske, director of parks and recreation, told the Council Ways and Means Committee it would cost. Hannan said all of the funding for the road would come from last year’s budget.

The City Council voted unanimously last month to investigate how the entry drive made it into the city’s Parks and Recreation 5-Year Plan. Records show the proposed drive was not discussed in public meetings, was not contained in the draft of the plan adopted by the Parks Board, which is advisory, and did not appear in a draft of the document for the Council’s consideration on March 23, during a public hearing on the plan.

But that investigation is in limbo as the Wood’s lawsuit works its way through the court.Neighbors joined Wood in expressing his concerns about the destruction of the park.

“Trees can be replanted and play space can be replaced,” said Julia Tarsa, a neighborhood resident. “But it will be harder to restore a park that has been paved over. It would make no sense for construction workers to proceed with work that they may have to undo immediately. We should all wait for the court’s voice on this.”

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