May 18 2016 01:07 PM

Despite vote not to sell, city still wants Willoughby on ballot

Despite a 7-1 vote by the Lansing Park Board opposing a ballot question to sell 70 acres of untouched wooded wetlands in southwest Lansing, Mayor Virg Bernero still wants voters to decide.

“It is up to the City Council to determine if the voters of Lansing, who have consistently supported measures to sell surplus city property, should have the opportunity to consider this question,” said Randy Hannan, Bernero’s chief of staff, about Willoughby Park.

The Parks Board met on May 11 to consider the proposal. Its decisions are advisory to the Council, which under the City Charter decides whether to ask voters to approve the sale of parkland. The charter prohibits selling parkland not approved by voters.

Paul Holland was the only Parks Board member to support the sale of the property.

“I voted to recommend that Council place the disposition of Willoughby Park before the voters so that, in the case that residents approve, the Administration could explore opportunities for infill development between existing subdivisions and thus expand the city’s tax base while potentially limiting sprawl even further away from the urban core,” Holland explained in a social media message to City Pulse.

Much of the park is wooded wetland and is unlikely to be suitable for development.

Hannan said the mayor views the property as “surplus” and said there is a cost to continuing to maintain it. However, a recet visit by City Pulse revealed the property revealed little, if any, maintenance. The surviving heir of the man who donated the property to the city, Rowland C. Stebbins, said he personally clears the brush away from the city’s sign marking the entrance to the park. The park has no recreational equipment and no parking lot.

The consideration to sell the property was tabled at April’s meeting, when the Park Board faced considerable public opposition to a plan to approve recommending the transfer of Scott Park, at Malcolm X and Washington avenues, to the Board of Water and Light. The BWL wanted the property to build a power substation. That proposal was approved 5-3. The administration argues that a ballot question on Scott Park is not required because it would not be a sale if the park is given to the BWL.