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Petition drive hits mark

Marie Havenga • Apr 4, 2017 at 10:00 AM

A grassroots petition blitz aimed at amending the Ferrysburg City Charter to better protect parks from being put on the market has reached the required number of signatures, organizers say.

Members of the Save the Ferrysburg Nature Preserve said Monday that they have gathered more than the 124 signatures necessary to place the charter amendment question on the Nov. 7 ballot.

But they say they’re not stopping there — the group is shooting for 500 signatures.

“We've got what we need, but we're continuing on,” said Lisa Royce, a member of the Save the Ferrysburg Nature Preserve group who last week opened her home to residents wanting to sign the petition. “We want to hit our goal (500) just so we're making a statement that it's not just South Holiday Hills that this is about, because it's not. It's about all the parks.”

The group wants to prevent Ferrysburg City Council members from being the ones to decide whether or not to sell city-owned parks.

The Ferrysburg Nature Preserve became a hot topic when City Councilwoman Kathleen Kennedy mentioned the possibility of considering selling the 43-acre parcel in South Holiday Hills to help the city raise revenue for upcoming expenses, such as rebuilding the Smith's Bayou Bridge and a new roof and boiler at City Hall.

Residents formed the Save the Ferrysburg Nature Preserve group and have been vocal at council meetings about their desire to keep the property status quo. They say many residents use the land for hiking, walking dogs, skiing and other recreational activities.

Councilwoman Regina Sjoberg said the current City Charter states that a park may not be sold without a three-fifths majority vote of the electors “when such a park is required under an official master plan of the city.”

But Sjoberg noted that no parks are required and that the Master Plan is not a legally binding document. A master plan serves as a guide for future planning and in no way dictates actions, she said.

The proposed charter amendment would eliminate any master plan park “requirement,” which would allow citizens to vote on potential city-owned park sales.

Besides Royce opening her home for signatures, about a dozen volunteers are going door-to-door with the petition.

“This isn't political,” Royce said. “This is just giving the people the voice. If we're going to sell property that belongs to us, it should be the taxpayers that decide this.”

Royce said although the group started out with the intention of protecting the Ferrysburg Nature Preserve, the effort has grown to include all city parks that could potentially be sold, including Ferry, Fire Barn and Sunnyside.

Coast Guard Park and the Kitchel-Lindquist Dunes Preserve are protected by deed restrictions and cannot be sold.

“Once we read the (charter) language, we figured out all the parks were vulnerable,” Royce said. “Ferrysburg is landlocked. We can't throw seeds out and grow more land. When it's gone, it's gone.”

Royce said it's impossible to have an accurate count on how many signatures have been gathered to date, but she knows the group has surpassed the required 124.

“It's hard to say because we have so many people doing it (collecting signatures),” she said Monday. “The number changes daily.”

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