“THIS IS FREAKING democracy in action!”
The words of a woman seated on the floor of the City Commission chambers last evening (Monday).
She was surrounded by more than 100 other citizens packed in, elbow to elbow, standing, sitting, kneeling, many straining for a glimpse of speakers politely but fervently telling the City Commissioners why they should not sell off key parcels of the Heartwood Forestland Property.
The reason? The parcels–one in particular, Parcel 35, which includes Mt. Marquette–contain Marquette’s much celebrated mountain bike trails built by the Noquemanon Trail Network and its army of dedicated volunteers over the last several years.
Family medicine resident Mike Kates was one of the dozen or so who spoke up. “Other residents come here and ask me what this community has to offer. And I always say, ‘We are the coolest community in the world!’ And the bike trails are the reason for it!”
Lucy Grove was another. “I see people walking those trails every day. It’s not just bikers. It’s hikers, snowshoers, it’s people walking their dogs.”
Bottom line for them: Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg. The trails are what makes Marquette special. They allow everyone to escape into the wilderness, and yet the trails are just minutes away from downtown. Not many towns can say that.
Further, they say, allowing any development on them (Condos? More condos??) would ruin that experience.
Of course, there is another side to this controversy, and City Manager Mike Angeli laid it out clearly.
First, he said, the intention of the city had always been to develop some of the Heartwood Property’s 2200 acres. That was well-known.
Second, the city is losing over one million dollars in tax revenue next year when the We Energies power plant shuts down. If the money is not found elsewhere, services and staff will likely have to be cut.
Third, the sale of these parcels could restore the lost funds.
Fourth, he, the city staff and the Commissioners are responsible to all of Marquette, not just to the biking community.
And finally, he said, he and the Commissioners can insist that any developer carefully accommodate the bikers’ concerns.
“I understand the importance of the trails,” he said emphatically. “They put Marquette on the map.”
He’s responsible for keeping the city solvent.
NTN representatives said they’d like the opportunity to buy Parcel 35. Exactly how much they’d pay and where the money would come from is uncertain. But that could be part of the solution.
An observation from a neutral observer at this SRO event: A compromise between the two sides can probably be worked out, and it would involve protecting Parcel 35–an integral part of the trail system, right near the trailhead–from development. This, while selling off the other parcels, but with the strict stipulation that developers accommodate the needs of the biking community.
In any case, none of this is happening anytime soon. This is just the first step in a possible sale. Officially, its called a “Request for Qualification.” It’s an outreach to possible developers to see what they have in mind for the parcels, and whether they have the cash.
The process will likely take months, maybe longer. You can be sure the biking community will continue to be heard. And City Manager Angeli will continue his sometimes thankless search for revenue.
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