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Petition circulating to protect city parks

Marie Havenga • Mar 25, 2017 at 9:00 AM

A citizens group that hopes to prevent a nature preserve and other city-owned parks from being sold has organized a ballot initiative to amend the Ferrysburg City Charter.

Members of the Save the Ferrysburg Nature Preserve group need 124 signatures to place the question of amending the charter on the November ballot, according to Regina Sjoberg, a Ferrysburg City Council member who supports saving the 43-acre parcel that many South Holiday Hills neighbors use for hiking, dog walking and other recreational purposes.

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 city’s Master Plan is not even 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.

Sjoberg said she is not involved in circulating the petitions, but she is a member of the Save the Ferrysburg Nature Preserve group, which she said has more than 600 members.

This is direct democracy at its best,” Sjoberg said. “The populist movement in the late 1800s gave recall and referendum powers to the people. When your government officials are not being responsive, you have the option of taking it into your own hands. I think it's wonderful these young people are getting involved in what they think is important.”

Lisa Royce, who lives across the street from the 43-acre preserve, is opening her home from 5-9 p.m. Monday through Friday for residents who want to stop by and sign the petition after first-shift hours. She said about a dozen of the group’s members will be canvassing the city to gather signatures, but she wants to make sure no one is missed.

“We're just trying to protect what we have,” Royce said. “Once it's gone, it's gone. I want people to be able to come and sign if they get missed somehow. ... A lot of people are very passionate about this.”

Royce stressed that this is not a political issue.

“We're just asking for a three-fifths vote of the people to decide whether they want to sell or not,” she said. “That's up to the people to decide. ... A three-fifths vote should be a vote of the people, not people on council who have the potential to be corrupted.”

Ferrysburg City Council members have expressed concern about many looming expenses, such as a new City Hall boiler and roof, Smith's bridge reconstruction, and a new sewer line under the Grand River. Council is considering selling the former City Hall and vacant land next to the current City Hall to generate revenue.

Save the Ferrysburg Nature Preserve member Sandy Tuggle said now is the time to let the people decide what is sold.

“Ferry Park, Sunnyside Park, Fire Barn Park and the Ferrysburg Nature Preserve could currently be at the mercy of short-sighted people who do not see the crucial value of green space,” Tuggle said. “This is not about 40 people who want a park in their backyards. It is about protecting all parks that are in danger of being sold and developed. A charter amendment is needed to ensure that only the people can make the decision about the sale of city parks.”

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