April 13 2016 07:33 PM

Parks board favors BWL plan for Scott Park, 5-3

Bob Ford, architect of the Lansing Board of Water & Light's plan for the Central Substation, makes a point to Lansing Parks Board member at the Foster Community Center.
Berl Schwartz/City Pulse

WEDNESDAY, April 13 — The guardians of Lansing’s green space voted 5-3 tonight for the power substation proposed for Scott Park.

The Parks Board’s decision is advisory only. The action shifts now to the Planning Commission, which in turn will make a recommendation to the City Council to decide on the proposal by the Lansing Board of Water & Light for the $26 million Central Substation. The substation would power downtown after the Eckert Power Plant closes in 2020.

The BWL has agreed to move the Scott Center, also known as the Jenison House and the Scott House, if the city finds a qualified buyer. It would also move the sunken gardens a little southwest overlooking the Grand River, where there is now parking adjacent to Cooley Gardens. The house and gardens sit on 5.5 acres at the corner of Malcolm X Drive and Washington Avenue, the gateway to REO Town.

A score or more of citizens spoke at Foster Community Center, all but three against the plan. Two of the three supporters were Ryan Wert, who heads the REO Town Commercial Association, whose boundaries include the land, and Natalie Molnar, leader of the association for the Moores Park neighborhood across the river from the park.

Jana Nicole, a westside resident, presented a petition she said had over 1,000 signatures against the plan, all gathered in the last eight days..

Sharton Burton of the Lansing Garden Club, which has long maintained the property’s sunken gardens, said its members were prepared to establish an endowment fund for $1,000. But she said they were not inclined to maintain the gardens if they are moved.

At-large member Paul Holland moved to support the plan. He said the park was neglected and that the $4 million the BWL is prepared to invest in relocating the park’s sunken gardens and making other improvements will be a step forward.

The BWL sweetened the pot at the meeting, announcing it would endow a fund to maintain the gardens for $40,000 and put $20,000 every three years into public art at the site.

Another yes voter, 3rd Ward member Rosalinda Hernandez, said it’s an issue of “land versus people” who cannot afford the rate increase if the BWL were to locate the plan on a more costly site.

The BWL said it has rejected seven other locations for a variety of reasons. Earlier in the day, it said it once again rejected building at the site of the Eckert Power Plant because it would add $13 million to the cost and slow down decommissioning the coal-burning Eckert plant.

Jim McClurken, who represents the 4th Ward, said the BWL “has not really listened” to the people. He said refusing to put the transfer of the park to the BWL up for a public vote was“sleight of hand.” The City Charter requires a vote to sell parkland, but the Bernero administration says because the publicly owned utility is a “sister agency,” a vote isn’t required.

Board Vice President Veronica Gracia-Wing backed McClurken. They and Rita O’Brien of the 1st Ward were the three opponents. O’Brien said the additional $13 million to build the substation at Eckert was preferable.

Joining Holland and Hernandez in support of the resolution were President Rick Kibbey and At-Large members Bryan Beverly and Clayton King.

The theme of many speakers was that the board is too hasty in giving up parkland, which Kibbey said wasn’t the case. He suggested the board needed to better educate the public on its defense of parks.

Earlier, the board tabled a motion to recommend selling Willoughby Park, 70 acres of wooded land on the south side, after the issue started to become contentious with the audience.

Other comments:

“The threat of a rate increase is blackmail’: Loretta Stanaway.

“You’re hearing from people who live in the city who want green space”: Joe Vitale, president of Preservation Lansing.

“We’ve seen too much of our precious heritage go by the wayside”: Judith Felice, former parks board member.

“Nobody outside of this room knows about it”: Ryan Wert, referring to Scott Park.

“Beautiful and historic inside”: Diane Sanborn of Preservation Lansing, referring to the house.

Several speakers said the intent of the Scott family in donating the house and gardens was being circumvented and was an insult to its generosity.