Hills Ballot Language Gets Council’s Nod -With Video

Organizers of a petition drive to amend the Rochester Hills city charter got the blessing of a divided city council Monday. On a 4-3 vote, council endorsed the wording worked out by a committee made up of the organizers, the city attorney and city officials. Councilmen Martin Brennan, Greg Hooper and Vern Pixley dissented.
The petitioners, who have formed a new group called SPACE (Saving Parks and City Environment), have until Aug. 10 to gather 2,550 signatures from registered voters to put the measure on the November ballot. The signatures must be verified by the city clerk and turned over to the Oakland County Clerk by Aug. 30.
“It’s probably about the best result we could have hoped for,” said Gary Uhl, president of the Bridgewood Farms Homeowners Association. He said the group has already gathered 1,000 signatures and is hoping to get 3,500. “Being able to say that council has endorsed the language is a very strong statement.”
SPACE has put up a Web site (https://sites.google.com/site/parkspace2011/home) and registered as a ballot proposal committee.
The proposed charter amendment, which is patterned on a similar initiative in West Lynn, Oregon, would limit the use of city-owned parks and open spaces to typical uses, including all uses currently in place. It would require a vote of the residents in order to sell, lease or transfer such properties or exchange or convert them to a use other than recreation or conservation. It would apply to present and future city-owned property designated as open space or park in the city’s parks and recreation master plan, including properties acquired through the green-space millage.
SPACE was formed by the leaders of several homeowners associations in reaction to an earlier city plan to build a water reservoir in a city park in a residential neighborhood. Initially, the group asked council to put the proposal on the ballot directly so they wouldn’t have to collect signatures. But after a June council meeting, they decided to stick with petitions because they learned that council could change its mind or change the wording, leaving the proposal in the lurch. In addition, a council-initiated ballot proposal would be subject to approval by the governor, which could result in changes in the wording.

“We don’t have an option, other than the way we’re going, to ensure that the language as currently all agree on goes on the ballot,” said Steve McGarry, President of the Heritage Oaks Homeowners Association and a cofounder of SPACE.
Susan Bowyer, president of the Cumberland Hills Homeowners Association and a cofounder of SPACE, said residents learned from the reservoir project that some city leaders views parks as “available property.” The backlash, which caused city council to reverse itself, proved that residents didn’t agree, she added.

“We do not want to fight with you every time a threat to our parks and open spaces emanates from city hall,” she said.

Peggy Fisher, a member of the Bridgewood Farms Homeowners Association board and another cofounder of SPACE, said the reservoir project “fueled an irrational and confrontational relationship” between the city and residents. “The proposed city-charter amendment does not stand in your way,” she said. “It just makes sure you communicate these plans thoroughly with the taxpayers … and isn’t that what democracy is about?”

The dissenters on council said they felt the proposal was rushed and might have unintended consequences. If successful, they said it could limit future public-private partnerships that have been beneficial to the city, including those responsible for the velodrome at Bloomer Park and Pine Trace Golf Course. They also said the proposal could impact future funding from grants and advertising. And they took issue with the characterization of an adversarial relationship between the city and its residents.

“I’m really kind of disturbed by this whole process,” Brennan said. “The reason the current system works is as a council we are charged with having a vision and being proactive. … The water reservoirs was a classic example of us trying to reduce water rates for 70,000 people in this city. It was not some kind of an effort to build a monument to ourselves. We thought it was a good idea. The water rates we pay to the city of Detroit are astronomical.

“We had debate, it got voted down, that’s how the democratic process works.”

By ANNETTE KINGSBURY
RochesterMedia.com

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