May 18 2011 12:00 AM

With time running out for the August primary, the administration is still shy of the Council support it needs to put part of the Red Cedar Golf Course up for sale


With less than a week to go, the Bernero
administration apparently is short of the five votes on the Lansing City
Council it needs to put the sale of a portion of the old Red Cedar Golf
Course on the August primary election ballot.

Three members are for it, one against and
four undecided. The deadline to get the proposal on the Aug. 2 ballot
is Tuesday, but so far its consideration is not even on the agenda for
Monday’s one remaining scheduled Council meeting before then.

The administration wants voters to grant
permission to sell the property for redevelopment even though no
development proposal is in place, which is a sticking point for some
Council members, who want details.

The City Charter requires voter approval
of selling parkland. Approval would kick off a request for bids process
run by the Lansing Economic Development Corp.

The administration’s plan to sell more
than 12 acres along Michigan Avenue in the Frandor area is tied directly
to financing a major effort proposed by Ingham County Drain
Commissioner Pat Lindemann to clean up the polluted Red Cedar River. The
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering placing the Red
Cedar River on its Total Maximum Daily Load list, or TMDL, because
pollution exceeds recommended levels for partial- and full-body contact.

The administration also wants to ask
voters in August for permission to sell the former Waverly Golf Course
and adjacent Michigan Avenue Park in Lansing Township, but that idea
doesn’t seem to be a problem. Unlike the Red Cedar plan, the language
would not specify it must be sold for redevelopment. 

The administration said it wants to stick
to an LEDC timeline that suggests construction could start on the Red
Cedar property before 2013 if voters approve a potential sale in August.

Three Council members have said they support selling the land: Kathie Dunbar, Jessica Yorko and Tina Houghton.

 First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt — whose ward includes the Red Cedar course — doesn’t support the resolution as drafted.

The undecided Council members — Brian
Jeffries, Derrick Quinney, A’Lynne Robinson and Carol Wood — each said
they want to see more details about what type of development would go in
along the south side of Michigan Avenue just east of Clippert Street
before the Council would have to vote on a resolution Monday.

However, Mayor Virg Bernero said details
of his Red Cedar Renaissance proposal aren’t going to surface before the
Council votes to put it on a ballot because details won’t exist unless
voters approve the sale in the Aug. 2 election. “They’re not gonna get
answers,” Bernero said in an interview Monday. “The issue is do they
accept the reality that we need to move on?”

By “moving on,” Bernero meant repurposing
the shuttered golf course. The city has proposed selling off 12.68
acres on the north side of the roughly 61-acre area on the corner of
Michigan Avenue and Clippert Street that was a golf course up until
2007, when it was closed for budgetary reasons. That portion would be
ripe for private development. Lindemann has plans to use the rest of the
property as a large storm water management basin and multi-use
parkland. That in turn is part of his much broader plan to revamp the
Frandor area, which sits on top of the Montgomery Drain.

 The Red Cedar Renaissance concept calls for using proceeds of the sale to fund park improvements.

When asked if he thinks he has the
Council votes to move forward, Lindemann said: “I don’t know. I think I
probably do. I think to vote against it is kind of silly because they
(Council) get the ultimate say anyway.”

If voters approve letting the city sell a
portion of the former golf course, any potential redevelopment
proposals would have to be approved by the Council.

“Think of it not as selling parkland but
as improving the park. In the end, you’re going to clean the river,” he
said. Lindemann has said the Montgomery Drain system, which includes the
Frandor Shopping Center, is the largest polluter of the Red Cedar River
because Frandor’s roughly 75 percent impervious surface creates a fast
track of polluted rainwater into the river. Despite years of efforts,
the Red Cedar remains unsafe for human use.

Jeffries said selling parkland “in
general is a difficult sell (to voters).” He believes the more voters
know about what type of changes may occur, the better.

“The better we can educate the public in
terms of how specific we can get would help direct the voters to a more
favorable conclusion than by not doing it,” he said. “I hope we could
take a little bit more time to flesh out details of the development and
issues surrounding it.”

Jeffries added that he’s not opposed to
repurposing the land and recognizes “pretty serious environmental
issues” that are going on with storm water runoff from Frandor. “We have
a tremendous asset there that’s wasting away,” he said.

Quinney said he, too, wants more details on the proposed redevelopment.

“In terms of agreements for Red Cedar in
particular: Who’s doing it? What’s proposed? Is there a possibility of a
labor agreement of some sort? There are lots of answers that need to be
addressed,” he said. Quinney is health and safety director of the
Michigan AFL-CIO.

Bob Trezise, LEDC president and CEO, said
the city has a “plan, concept and partners” for the nearly 13 acres
that ideally would be private, mixed-used development. But that’s about
all he would say at this point.

“We’re only asking for permission to
pursue those plans and concepts as best we can,” he said. “Obviously I
can’t answer those questions (of Council members). More importantly, I
can’t get to that point unless the property is put up for sale.”

Councilwoman Yorko, one of the
supporters, said, “It’s important to remember that putting it on the
ballot doesn’t mean it will definitely be sold. And any deals that may
be negotiated would come back to the Council for final approval. It
gives us the ability to explore the possibilities.”

Bernero called Council members’ requests
for more development details “putting the cart before the horse.” He
said placing it on the ballot for voters and potential redevelopment are
two separate issues. 

“We need to get the voters out (to have a
say), then we’ll know,” he said. “I understand Council wants to see a
proposal. I’d like to see one too. It’s not available.”

Jeffries disagrees: “The vote says we’re
going to develop it. Saying we’re just going to sell it is different
than saying we’re going to sell it for development.”

Hewitt said he is opposed because it
specifically says selling “for redevelopment purposes.” He believes
Bernero is using visions of redevelopment to persuade voters to sell the
property — and he is none too pleased about it.

“It’s the fantasy of a deranged,
narcissistic maniac,” Hewitt said of Bernero. “Most of those
(redevelopment) visions have not come about (in the past). If they have
come about, the final product is not even close to the original vision
sold to the public. I’m not going to drink the Kool-Aid again, I’m

Hewitt said he supports the Waverly sale
because it’s not tied to any redevelopment plans. He said he’d also
support the Red Cedar sale if it didn’t have “for redevelopment”
language in the ballot proposal.

Trezise said if the deadline for the Aug.
2 primary ballot is missed and the resolution gets bumped to the Nov. 8
General Election ballot, that could put off construction for up to a
year. He said if voters approve the resolution in the August election,
“We’re looking at a shovel going into the ground, at best, in late

“I believe the city has great momentum in
economic development. Slowing down is always bad. Let’s just keep an
orderly logical process in motion,” he said. “There’s no reason to push
the question — that’s all it is, not a decision — into November. Why
wouldn’t we pursue that faster track?”