Ballot proposal seeks to amend Rochester Hills charter

What is the proper use of a Rochester Hills city-owned park or green space? If you said recreation, relaxation and appreciation of nature, a group of residents hope you will vote ‘yes’ on a charter amendment proposal on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Earlier this year, the leaders of some of the city’s homeowner associations got together to figure out how to protect city parks from unwanted development. The move came after city council voted to build a water reservoir in a city park located next to Adams High School in a residential neighborhood.

The uproar created by that plan made council take a second look, and the reservoir was never built. But the very idea that the city could repurpose land bought by taxpayers to something very different got people thinking. What if the reservoir plan comes back? What else might they want to build in our parks? Why are we paying to protect open space?

Earlier this year, a group known as SPACE (Save Parks and City Environments) circulated petitions to put a charter amendment proposal on the ballot. After considerable back and forth, city council voted in support of the proposal. Now it’s up to the voters.

The proposal asks voters whether a new section should be added to the charter that would require the city to get voter approval before allowing a current or future public park to be used for something other than recreation or conservation. The proposal covers parks as well as green spaces purchased under a 2005 millage. It includes sale, lease, transfer, exchange and conversion to another use. It also covers removal of parkland from the city’s parks and recreation master plan.

Gary Uhl, and a 13-year city resident who is president of the Bridgewood Farms Subdivision Homeowners Association, said some people are concerned the proposal will cost them something.

“It’s very straightforward,” he said. “There are no new taxes needed to support this.”

The city charter already requires voter approval when it comes to disposing of any utility property the city might acquire. The proposed amendment, if approved, would add a new section after the current Section 11.7.

“It’s very common sense, that a park should have the same protection as a DPS (Department of Public Services) garage,” Uhl said. In addition, the amendment “reiterates and confirms the green space language in the charter now.”

At a candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters last month, both mayoral candidates said they support the ballot proposal. All but one of the city-council candidates also said they support it. Mark Tisdel, who is running for an at-large seat on council, said the proposal is bad economic and public policy which radically alters the charter by taking power away from the city.

“We’re going to need to be creatively using every single piece of property we have” to deal with the loss of revenue in the recession, he said.

“I fully support” the ballot proposal, said mayoral candidate Erik Ambrozaitis. “There was never a business case” for the reservoir, he added.

Mayor Bryan Barnett said he didn’t support the initial language presented by the residents. But after it was adjusted by a committee with city input, he signed the petition. “It’s creating the change you desire to see,” he said.

The reservoir wasn’t the first proposal for a city park to spark opposition. Over the years Riverbend Park has been eyed as a home for a commercial development and for off-site water retention for another development. Neither came to pass and the park, which is on the Clinton River, remains undeveloped. The city owns other parks that haven’t yet been developed due to lack of funding.

Uhl said amending the charter, which dates to 1984 when Rochester Hills became a city, is nothing new. “The charter has been amended over time.” The proposal “is consistent with the charter as it is currently amended.”

If approved, the proposal would create a new restriction on council, “but I don’t think unduly,” Uhl said. “It doesn’t preclude any great idea they come up with. It just better be a pretty good business case.”

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