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Motion to protect Ferrysburg Nature Preserve denied

Rose White • Feb 7, 2017 at 8:00 AM

FERRYSBURG — City Council members denied a motion to determine whether or not the Ferrysburg Nature Preserve could be sold without the consent of voters.

Council voted down the motion, 5-2, at Monday night’s meeting. That vote came on the heels of a lengthy battle attempting to protect the Ferrysburg Nature Preserve from being sold. 

The City Charter says that a majority vote must approve the sale of a designated park, but the Nature Preserve, along with other parks in the area, are not designated as parks in the city’s Master Plan. This means without the amendment, City Council can approve the sale at their discretion.

The City Council meeting was also set to discuss putting the sale of the Nature Preserve on the ballot in May. But after the first motion was denied, no further action was taken.

“There’s no chance it can be put to a vote prior to a charter amendment,” Councilwoman Regina Sjoberg said.

Because the definition of a park is still ambiguous in the City Charter, the legal advice given by Brook Bisonet at the meeting was to not put this issue on the ballot.

Before the vote was taken, several members of the public addressed city council.

Ed Royce argued that the sale of the park would not benefit the city financially.

“Our city is in good financial condition,” he argued.

Despite comments from Royce and others and others, the motion was voted down.

The decision was met with outrage from some members of the public.

“We the citizens of Ferrysburg are disappointed in the council’s decision not to protect our parks,” said Heather Holly, speaking on behalf of an initiative that’s been fighting to protect the Ferrysburg Nature Preserve.

“What we see here is this council not wanting your voice to be heard, not wanting you to be able to vote if you want to sell the park or not,” said Peter Sjoberg.

“That property means something to this community,” said Lisa Joyce. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Councilman Michael DeWitt voted no because he argued there are other avenues to protect the parks.

“People have an option,” he said. “They can collect signatures, put it on the ballot, and people can vote on it.”

Councilwoman Sjoberg voted yes because she stated, “It’s the wish of the people.”

She also argued that it is the goal of City Council to align the master plan with the City Charter.

“It is worth going to the trouble of changing the Charter,” she said.

Despite this contentious decision, Councilman J. Patrick Twa put forward his opinion that this issue could be resolved another way, and the park could still be protected.

“We can eliminate any possibility of parks being sold through a zoning change of our parks to a defined park definition,” Twa said. “We can do it with the planning commission.”

Roger Jonas, chairman of the Planning Commission, confirmed this as a possibility.

Regina Sjoberg ended the meeting by making a statement about the vote.

“We need to amend our charter, so that the spirit of this is upheld,” she said. “No park should be sold without the vote of our electorate as our city founders wanted.”

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