Save the Ferrysburg Nature Preserve members turn in petitions

Marie Havenga • Aug 1, 2017 at 10:00 AM

A citizens group that hopes to prevent the Ferrysburg Nature Preserve and other city-owned parks from being sold has eclipsed the necessary number of petition signatures to put the question of amending the Ferrysburg City Charter on the fall ballot.

The group turned in the signatures at Ferrysburg City Hall on Monday. They still need to be verified to become official.

A leading member of the group says City Councilwoman Rebecca Hopp, one of three mayoral candidates, is trying to undermine their efforts by refusing to acknowledge the preserve as a park.

Members of the Save the Ferrysburg Nature Preserve group needed 124 signatures to place the question of amending the charter on the Nov. 7 ballot, according to Regina Sjoberg, a city councilwoman who supports saving the 43-acre parcel that many South Holiday Hills neighbors use for hiking, dog walking and other recreational purposes. About a dozen members of the group collected more than 400 signatures in the past four months.

The 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, who is also running for mayor, noted that no parks are required and that the city’s Master Plan is not a legally binding document anyway. A master plan serves as a guide for future planning and in no way dictates actions.

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

“People were very excited to sign (the petition),” Sjoberg said. “There's a very strong feeling that the parks need to be protected and the decision should be made by a vote of the people. There's some erroneous information out there that the Ferrysburg Nature Preserve is not a park. That's absolutely not true. That's something people need to know.”

Lisa Royce, a member of the citizens group who lives across the street from the preserve, agreed.

“I believe we're being undermined by one of the candidates for mayor,” Royce said. “Rebecca Hopp refuses to say that Ferrysburg Nature Preserve is a park. She's going around telling people it's not a park and it is wrong.”

City Manager Craig Bessinger confirmed that the preserve is a park.

“It's defined as a park in the city code, with all the other city parks,” he said.

Hopp said people are passionate about the preserve.

“I do know that the property deed has no restriction as to a preserve and no ecological studies have been completed to determine if it is a preserve,” she said, reading from a written statement. “However, I do know that this is a very beautiful place to visit, but it is not accessible by the public due to no on-street parking in the City of Ferrysburg. This creates a barrier for residents and visitors due to this limitation.”

Hopp said she views the preserve as being different from other city parks.

“The city's other parks are very accessible for people with all abilities and inclusive to all,” she said.

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