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Opinions mixed at park charrette

Jon Noyes (left), planning supervisor for Oakland County Parks, discusses a park concept plan for the Koenig Sand & Gravel property with Addison residents Lois Friesmutch (standing) and Tracy Evans during a design charrette held July 11 at the Oxford Village municipal complex. The next charette is July 25. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
July 17, 2013 - Opinions were mixed as folks gathered July 11 to ask questions and give their input regarding the potential creation of an 860-acre multiuse adventure park centered around off-road vehicle (ORV) use in Oxford Township.

"I don't think this is going to be a positive thing for Oxford," said Lisa Caloia, owner of Freestyle Farm on N. Oxford Rd. "I think it's going to lower our property values.

"I think we're going to have to deal with a lot of noise pollution and other pollutants like gas and oil spills. I think it's going to have a really negative impact on traffic in that area. I just don't think it's a positive thing at all."

"I think it's a great idea, honestly," said Lake Orion resident Rick Mazzenga, an ORV enthusiast. "I've been looking for something like this to happen in Oakland County for years and years."

"I hope it goes through," Mazzenga noted. "I hope people can be reasonable about it and kind of meet somewhere in the middle instead of going off the deep end."

Between 40 and 50 citizens showed up at the Oxford Village municipal complex (22. W. Burdick St.) for a design charrette hosted by Oakland County Parks and Recreation.

The county agency is exploring the idea of developing this proposed park on the 1,200-acre Koenig Sand & Gravel property.

The Koenig site is bordered by Ray Rd. to the north; the Addison Twp. border to the east; N. Oxford Rd. to the west; and Lakeville Rd./Polly Ann Trail to the south.

Although creating a legal public place for ORV riding is the main impetus, the proposed park could also offer opportunities for horseback riding, mountain biking, fishing, archery deer hunting, scuba diving and training, water recreation and watercraft use, nature trails, wildlife viewing and zip-line experiences.

As it stands right now, the concept involves the Koenig land potentially being acquired by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) using monies from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.

The entire concept hinges on the grant being awarded and Koenig's owners deciding to sell the property to the state, which is by no means a sure thing. There have been no negotiations or agreements with the landowner, only some preliminary discussion.

Although the proposal calls for the DNR to purchase and own the land, it would be leased to the county parks department for a period of at least 50 years. During that time, the county would be solely responsible for the development, operation and maintenance of the multiuse park.

As can be expected, it was the proposed park's ORV component that generated the most concern and opposition.

"Way too much noise will be created," said Addison resident Bob Scheiko.

"I can go out in the morning on my porch and listen to the Oxford High School band practice over at the high school. I can listen to Bud Rowley coach the team over there on the football field. If they're saying the ATVs that are going to be between me and them will be quieter, they're trying to fool us. It's not going to work."

Addison resident Dennis Friesmutch had a similar opinion. "We can hear the band. We can hear traffic on M-24," he said. "They're going to have a hard time convincing me that there's going to be sound abatement."

Friesmutch's wife, Lois, was very concerned about noise as well, but noted that "otherwise, (the park) sounds like a nice idea."

"I think we could use another big park in Oakland County," she said.

Oxford Twp. Trustee Melvin (Buck) Cryderman, who's lived on Ray Rd. for 28 years, is also no fan of the proposed ORV use.

"I'm definitely against it – without a doubt," he said.

His biggest concern is the potential negative impact of noise and dust on surrounding residential developments – the Willow Lake and Oxford Lakes subdivisions and the Lake Villa mobile home park – and the horse country to the north, of which he's a part.

"I do not think it's the right place to put this," Cryderman said. "I'll bet none (of the other ORV parks in Michigan) are in an area like this with (residential) populations around them."

"It's just the wrong area for it," he continued. "We've got gravel pits north of town that aren't surrounded by people's houses. Why can't we stick it in one of them?"

Cryderman said he's open to the idea of allowing some of other recreational pursuits involving bicycles, horses and swimming, just nothing that generates noise like ORVs.

"I've got a horse and two donkeys, and they told me they don't like motorcycles," he said.

Some people were all for the park.

"I'm super-excited, especially if they bring in some more horse trails," said Addison resident Tracy Evans. "Anything to do with horses or dogs, I'm all for it."

Evans, who's been an equestrian for more than 20 years, said Oakland County has "the largest horse population" in the state and not many public places to enjoy them.

"There's so many horses around here and there's just nowhere to ride," she said.

While it's true, there are riders who take their horses on local dirt roads, Evans doesn't believe that's a safe practice.

"You've got to get off the roads. It's just too dangerous," she said.

She believes this proposed park could safely accommodate both horses and ORVs with separate trails. Evans does long-distance horseback riding in northern Michigan and she's never had a problem with ORVs there.

"We don't interfere with each other," she said. "They stay on their trails, we stay on ours. You can coexist."

Orion Township resident Nick Cappa is excited about the proposed park because of the variety of recreational activities it's promising to offer.

"I don't even know if a park exists that combines all the activities that they're talking about putting here," he said.

Cappa enjoys ORVs, mountain biking, fishing, boating and riding jet skis, all things that could be allowed in this proposed park.

"I could go to this facility with my jet ski, my Jeep, my bicycle and my fishing gear, and I could spend all day," he said. "And if they opened up some camping (areas), I could spend all night."

"I just want a recreational area that encompasses all the things I like to do," Cappa added. "This is a solution and it's local."

Cappa noted that if the Koenig property isn't utilized for a park, it's going to eventually be developed and filled with homes.

"This property – something's going to happen with it. It will not stay in its natural state," he said. "There's a ton of waterfront property in here that developers would love to get their hands on."

If the property does become a private development for a privileged few instead of a public park for all to enjoy, Cappa said, "There's going to be a lot of people regretting it later on down the line."

Cappa understands there's some opposition to this project, but he said that's to be expected. "No matter where you try to put a park like this, you're always going to have people saying no," he said.

Cappa said perhaps the idea would be more palatable to people if some of the revenue generated by the park was used to "put sidewalks in" the community and maintain or pave dirt roads. "There's got to be a solution that can make a lot of people happy," he said.

Oxford resident Paul Ferri, a local dentist, was also supportive of the park. He likes to ride ORVs with his son and the idea of being able to do it so close to home is appealing.

Right now, Ferri does his riding at the Mounds in Mt. Morris Township (Genesee County). The Mounds is a 370-acre ORV park with 230 acres available for riding and approximately 9.5 miles of trails.

"The fact that I wouldn't have to drive an hour each way is beneficial," Ferri said.

To Ferri, less travel time means "more time with the family."

Mezzanga felt much the same way.

Whenever he wants to ride ORVs, he travels to his family's cabin by Boyne Mountain.

"That's where we do all of our riding. There's just no place around here to go," he said.

That would change if the Oxford park became a reality. "If I had something 15 minutes from my house, I'd be there every weekend," Mezzanga said. "I'd use it every chance I got. Absolutely."

Some folks who attended the charrette are reserving judgment.

"I'm not sold either way," said Gary Kochis, of Oxford. "I have an open mind about it. I'm willing to listen."

Like others, Kochis has serious concerns about the park's potential impact when it comes to noise, property values and traffic.

"More than anything I want them to test," he said. "They keep talking about testing."

The county parks agency wants to conduct some tests on the Koenig property, so it can measure the impact ORV use could have on noise levels, dust, etc. The county also plans to test the park's suitability for other recreational pursuits.

"If they do indeed run a test, they need to make everyone aware of test day," said Kochis, who noted he doesn't want to see the county just "slide" a test day in there and say "you guys didn't hear anything, so it did well."

"If they want to win this battle, they need to keep people totally informed as to what's going on," he noted.

Kochis said the county must also prove to him that this proposed park is really going to benefit local businesses as officials have been claiming. He's skeptical about that point.

He believes most park users will be folks from Oakland and Macomb counties who will go home for dinner, not eat at local restaurants, because they'll be "all muddy and dirty."

Oxford resident Jim Felix said if this park is to be developed, it must be "done right."

"I think we need to go very, very carefully with this planning," he said. "Done right, I'd be fine with it, but we have to control the traffic; we have to control the noise and the dust."

"I'm concerned about property values – my own and others in the area," Felix noted. "I personally think Oxford Township has made some mistakes in the past that have negatively affected property values."

Felix wants to make sure "that beautiful property is well-preserved." He could see himself using it for activities such as hiking, running, biking and cross-country skiing.

"I don't see myself doing anything with an ORV, but I certainly could see a lot of other uses for it," he said.

Felix said his main concern is the "property is protected and the community gets something out of it."

He was glad to hear about the potential use of part of the Koenig site to possibly construct a joint Oxford/Addison fire station someday. "That's a bonus to the community," Felix said.

He would like to see some land set aside for a community center as well. Felix doesn't understand how Lapeer has a "world-class community center" and "yet, this highly populated area has nothing like that to offer."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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