Tuesday, June 10, 2008

So far, Whirlpool wins (big)

Commission approves new Harbor Shores deal

Marsh says revisions in Jean Klock Park agreement give city more control over the development


BENTONHARBOR—The Benton Harbor City Commis­sion voted Monday to approve an agreement with Harbor Shores for the use of Jean Klock Park.
The agreement will be sent to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, which will review it and decide whether to forward it to the National Park Service. The NPS will make the final deci­sion about whether 22 acres of the 73-acre lakefront park may be used for three holes of a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course.
This is the second time the city has approved an agree­ment with Harbor Shores for the conversion and mitigation of Jean Klock Park.
The prior agreement was re­jected by the NPS last year, in part because the city did not hold a sufficient public-com­ment period and the parcels proposed to mitigate for the loss of the Jean Klock Park acreage were deemed an un­fair trade.
City Manager Richard Marsh said the new agreement is good for Benton Harbor and the revisions give the city more control over the devel­opment.
Sixteen changes were made to the original agreement. Among the major changes are that Benton Harbor now has the power to terminate Harbor Shores’ lease if the developers breach the agreement, and Harbor Shores will be obli­gated to return the parkland to its original condition if the golf course ceases operation.
Another major change is the city will appoint the only three voting members on the five­member Golf Course Over­sight Panel, which will audit the course’s finances and have oversight over its operation.
“Many times when I’m ne­gotiating on behalf of a city with a developer, I’m fighting tooth and nail,” said Don Schmidt, special counsel for Benton Harbor. “Harbor Shores was very accommodat­ing.”
Juanita Henry was the only city commissioner that voted against the agreement. She said the public needs time to review the report, which was finalized Friday.
She said the city manager had said in several meetings that citizens would get an­swers to their comments.
“So far, it hasn’t happened,” Henry said. “I can say for a fact some of my questions haven’t been answered and I’m a commissioner.”
Citizens sent hundreds of letters to the city during a 45­day public comment period. Those comments were boiled down into 104 core questions about the development and re­sponded to in the report re­leased Friday, Schmidt said.
Marsh said the city has gone above and beyond what the DNR requires for public in­put. He said citizens were given 45 days to ask questions about the park conversion and mitigation and the city does not need to give them more time to “comment on the com­ments.”
“We’ve delayed it and we’ve slowed it down because we wanted to give citizens more time to comment,” he said.
“At this point, I don’t think any more delays are appropri­ate,” Commissioner Eddie Marshall said.
He thanked Friends of Jean Klock Park for the organiza­tion’s involvement in making the agreement better.
A handful of citizens stood up to tell the commission they were disappointed in the deci­sion, especially that they vot­ed on the agreement before the public had a fair chance to review it.
“Until I know you’re going to listen to the citizens in this town, I’m not going to have any confidence in any one of you,” Benton Harbor resident James Duncan said.
City resident Nicole Moon said the mitigation parcels of­fered in exchange for the Jean Klock Park land are not a fair trade for the city.
She asked the commission if the park land could be sold if Harbor Shores moves off the land. If that land is miti­gated with new parcels in other parts of the city, she asked, is there any guarantee the 22 acres would remain a public park?
The commission did not an­swer her question.
“They say it will revert back to the city, but they didn’t say it will revert back to Jean Klock Park,” Moon said after the meeting.
The agreement on the con­version and mitigation pro­posal for Jean Klock Park is available for the public to view at City Manager Richard Marsh’s office, at 200 E. Wall St. Additional copies will be made available at the city clerk’s office and the police department, Marsh said.
Contact Kevin Allen at .

Photos by Don Campbell / H-P staff
Benton Harbor City Commissioner Juanita Henry said some of her questions about the agreement to let Harbor Shores use part of Jean Klock Park for three holes of a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course still haven’t been answered. She was the only commissioner to vote against the agreement. City Manager Richard Marsh said the city has gone above what the state requires for public input on the question. “We’ve delayed it and we’ve slowed it down because we wanted to give the citizens more time to comment,” he said.