Poor Frances

By Neal McNamara

Poor Frances Frances Park denied state grant for improvements

The Lansing City Council’s split vote in 2008 that killed a bid to apply for a grant for Frances Park from the state Department of Natural Resources for improvements will probably go down as one of the all-time greatest meltdowns in Council history — there was crying, and even a yelling match that included swearing and slurs between First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt and Mayor Virg Bernero.

The saga of a getting state funds for a pathway connecting Frances Park, located along Moores River Drive, from its east end to Cambridge Road and adding boat docks, however, received another blow earlier this month when the state DNR denied a grant application.

After the vote went down in Council in March 2008 — Third Ward Councilwoman A’Lynne Robinson, First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt and At-Large Council members Brian Jeffries and Carol Wood voted “no,” killing the bid because it had to have a majority of consenting votes by the eightperson Council — the issue was brought back up again in July 2008 and approved unanimously. The recommendation from Council allowed the city to apply for the grant for the 2009 year, but a “yes” vote in March would have allowed the city to apply in 2008. The grant application was for $461,779, with a $197,905 match from the city parks millage.

Each year, the DNR trust fund, which is controlled by a board made up of four gubernatorial appointees and one member of the Natural Resources Commission, selects an area of preservation to focus on. In 2008, the trust fund’s focus was on trail linkages. This year, the focus included trail linkages, but also on shooting ranges and deeryards, DNR spokeswoman Mary Detloff said.

Lansing Parks and Recreation Director Murdock Jemerson said that Lansing’s score was in the same range of projects that did get DNR approval. But, he said, the board viewed the other projects as more beneficial to the other communities.

“The project has to stand up on its own and be a project that reflects a true value to the community,” he said.

Both Jemerson and Judith Felice, a member of the Friends of Frances Park group, recall a meeting with the trust fund trustees at which it was remarked that the Frances Park project seemed “controversial.” Lana Pollack, chairwoman of the board, did not return a call seeking comment.

Detloff said that the minutes for the December meeting — at which the “controversial” remark was made — were not yet available. She said that the history surrounding the Frances Park project had nothing to do with the board’s decision, but that there were concerns over the project because of the proximity of the walkway to the road and because proposed boat docks were not near parking.

“No one ever called it controversial,” Detloff said.

As it stands, residents of the surrounding neighborhood east of Cambridge Road who wish to access the park by foot have to walk in the roadway. On a recent day, a jogger made his way along Moores River Drive near Cambridge Road treading in the street upon half-melted snow.

“There were issues with public access, lack of parking and the cost of boardwalk,” Detloff said.

Also, a DNR liaison working with the city on the grant was terminated in the middle of the scoring process. Detloff would not discuss the reasons for the termination. The replacement liaison rescored the Lansing grant and raised concerns about the safety of the trailway to the road and that a proposed boat dock had no vehicle access.

Jemerson said that beleaguered trail connecting Frances Park to the rest of the local neighborhood may not be dead yet. There is the possibility of applying for grants with a private organization, and perhaps the state Department of Transportation, which last year renovated trails to the west of Frances Park connecting it to Waverly Road. There is also the possibility of funding the project through the parks millage. However, applying to the trust fund again may not happen.

“Personally I would not,” Jemerson said.

“I think that we gave it a really good try here.”

For Felice, the way that the grant application was denied initially by Council, and then approved several months later, was just a “political tussle.” When the grant was before Council the first time, some members complained that not enough people in the surrounding neighborhoods had been notified of what the grant might pay for. But in the end, Felice said that the city should always be trying its hardest to search for grants to improve the city.

“It’s really a very important safety issue to try to create a walking trail to connect the sidewalk to the pedestrian path,” Felice said. “People are using the center of the road.”

— Neal McNamara