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Editor’s Note: This story was updated to include comments from former Mayor Virg Bernero.
TUESDAY, March 19 — Residents near Ormond Park have settled their suit against the city but remain disappointed.
“We’re not happy because we lost the park,” said Peter Wood, treasurer for the Friends of Ormond Park, which brought the suit. “The city has deep pockets and we don’t. We were dipping into our pension funds. The legal process is very expensive and we knew it couldn’t go on forever. There were just some disappointing setbacks.”
The neighborhood group dropped its lawsuit against the city of Lansing in exchange for $10,000 and a promise of additional park improvements, ending a 16-month legal battle. The group said it spent $60,000 on the case.
The lawsuit, filed in November 2017, sought to block the now-finished driveway through the park to Groesbeck Golf Course under Former Mayor Virg Bernero’s administration. Case filings argued the removal of the playscapes and trees would “detrimentally alter” the space and pose safety concerns for children and families.
Lansing tried to have the suit tossed out before the case eventually landed in the state Court of Appeals. Bernero, who issued a statement today, contended the park space was only purchased by the city with the specific intent of building the roadway. He never doubted Lansing would “prevail” in court and noted the project was “elegantly designed.”
“The land was purchased really not so much for a park. It was purchased for a driveway,” Bernero said. “City leaders — the mothers and fathers of Lansing — felt the (prior) circuitous route was invading the neighborhood. We had constant complaints about the traffic created at the golf course. This was the solution.”
The neighborhood group, however, perceived the project as an attack on their local green space. Despite attempts to reach some type of compromise, the project was finished without a hitch. The lawsuit, in the meantime, sat motionless while Wood shifted focus toward mitigating the “negative impact” of the project.
“I think everybody associated with Friends of Ormond Park feels really good and clean about taking the actions we did,” Wood explained. “We couldn’t have lived with ourselves if we sat back and did nothing. We tried to act with integrity throughout this whole process. That part was something that really meant a lot to us during this.”
The settlement agreement outlines a city commitment to replant an unnamed number of trees that were uprooted during the roadway project. Other terms include the installation of a new playscape, basketball court and more safety signage — all needlessly spelled out amid plans that would’ve continued regardless, officials said.
“We agreed to all the things we were going to do anyway,” said Mayor Andy Schor. “The money was already allocated for these things. There didn’t need to be a lawsuit. We were willing to do those things without it. I wasn’t thrilled about the $10,000, but this was a lawsuit I inherited. People spent their own personal dollars.”
Friends of Ormond Park President Merry Stanford previously said her neighbors no longer wanted to see the street removed; They just wanted to find some middle ground. A list of “suggestions” for a settlement sent last year outlined requests for various park improvements, plus $60,000 to cover legal expenses from the lawsuit.
A playscape was replaced. Ongoing projects are estimated to tally to about $100,000. And while Schor still plans to honor his prior campaign commitments for park improvements, he stopped short of the request to reimburse the group’s legal fees. The $10,000 payout was more of a courtesy and a way to quickly end the case, he added.
“I think some of those folks spent their retirement dollars,” Schor said. “We’re not trying to bankrupt anybody.”
Added Bernero: “We never doubted that we would prevail legally and we knew that the new entrance would serve the entire community well. The old entrance was circuitous and invasive. This project was elegantly designed and completed under the public service department and will stand the test of time.”
The neighborhood group previously sought to have a raised pedestrian crosswalk installed along with natural fencing around the new playscapes. The list also included a suggestion for the roadway to be kept, in perpetuity, as a public street and never be sold into a private development. The agreement makes no mention of those terms.
“We raised awareness around the need for parks,” Wood added. “There are some intangible benefits to this, but this is a loss for the city and its citizens. We will look to ensure we don’t have similar losses like this in the future.”
All told, the roadway project totaled to about $445,000, including about $357,000 in construction and $82,000 in site engineering, according to city officials. The more recent improvements — including the $10,000 settlement — inevitably edges those costs to more than a half-million dollars since the changes at the park began.
City officials were unable to provide an exact estimate for the legal costs to handle the case, noting in-house attorneys entirely covered the litigation. One payment to an expert witness — the only measurable expense for the city other than salaried staff time — tallied to $4,450, according to city officials.