Source: Sherman Publications

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Public invited to workshops on park concept

by CJ Carnacchio

June 05, 2013

Folks who have opinions, suggestions, comments or a desire to be involved in the decision-making process are invited to attend a series of charrettes concerning the proposed concept of creating a multi-use adventure park centered around off-road vehicle (ORV) use in Oxford Township.

"A charrette is just a fancy word for a workshop," said Jon Noyes, supervisor of planning for Oakland County Parks. "We're approaching this as a place-making charrette, which means that you start with identifying what makes this place (Oxford) cool, what makes it appealing to people and what are the potential economic benefits of a particular project."

County parks has proposed a concept whereby 860 acres of the 1,200-acre Koenig Sand & Gravel property could be transformed into a public park that provides opportunities for ORV riding, mountain biking, equestrian pursuits, fishing, archery deer hunting, scuba diving and training, water recreation and watercraft, natural trails and wildlife viewing, zip-line experiences and aerial tours.

All three workshops will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. inside the Oxford Village municipal complex located at 22 W. Burdick St., just west of M-24.

"This is definitely one of those cases where we want people to participate," Noyes said.

He noted the workshops are "sequential" and will each serve a different purpose in the process, so they won't "rehash the same stuff every time."

"They will build on one another," he said.

The first is scheduled for Thursday, July 11. It will focus on evaluating the proposed concept, identifying critical issues and opportunities, and proposing alternatives.

Workshop #2 will occur on Thursday, July 25 and will involve evaluating alternatives, refining concepts and identifying areas for additional investigation.

The third and final workshop is set for Thursday, Aug. 1. This meeting will focus on developing a final concept proposal, recommending test events and proposing a course of action.

"We want people who are interested in providing suggestions, hearing other people's comments and proposing alternatives ways to make it better," Noyes said. "We're not just asking people to come and listen to a presentation."

Noyes is hoping for public input that goes beyond recommendations such as, "I think you should move down the street. Go to somebody else's community."

Noyes' reply to that type of comment is, "We could (do that), but if we stay here, what do you suggest?"

The results of each workshop will be posted on the internet, so citizens can comment throughout the process via e-mail or traditional letters.

Once the public workshops are done and a proposed concept has been crafted, Noyes indicated his agency is tentatively planning to seek resolutions of support from the township board, village council and township parks and recreation commission at their respective meetings in August.

Noyes indicated the county wants to work with the public first on this proposal, then go to these local boards and say, "Look, we reached out to your residents and here's what some of the folks are thinking."

What's currently being proposed is the acquisition of 860 acres of the Koenig site by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) using money from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.

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

If this land was purchased from Koenig by the state, it could be leased to the county parks agency 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 multi-use park.

Representatives from the county parks agency spent the month of May making presentations regarding this proposed park concept to various governing bodies in Oxford.

They will continue making presentations this month to the Addison Township Board (7:30 p.m. Monday, June 17) and the Oxford School Board (6:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 19).

As has been repeatedly noted in previous stories and public presentations regarding this issue, the Koenig site is being considered because the owner was identified as a potential willing seller who is open to discussing this proposed park as a possible option.

That's why the Koenig site was used as the basis for a grant application to the state Natural Resources Trust Fund.

"In order to put in an application, you need to have a landowner who is willing to engage in the conversation," Noyes said. "That's what's necessary to get the ball rolling."

No agreements have been made or signed between Koenig's owners and either the state or county. Legally nothing can be agreed to or negotiated at this point in the grant application process. Even if a grant is awarded, there is no guarantee a deal will be reached with Koenig's owners.

By the same token, the Koenig property is by no means locked in as the only site that the county and state are willing to consider for this type of park.

"I think it's fair for us to look elsewhere in the community," said Noyes, who added the questions that must be asked are "Where else could we look and what are the implications for those sites? Could they host the same type of events?"

"Not every place is large enough to have off-road vehicles and equestrian trails and soccer fields," Noyes noted.

When asked if the county parks agency is looking at any other potential sites in Oxford, Noyes replied, "No. We have no one else that has identified themselves as a willing seller.

"But that doesn't mean there aren't other potential properties that could be considered. Mainly because Oxford is one of those (places) where you have mining occurring. Mining doesn't go on forever, so the question is what could those mine sites be used for in that reclamation process?"

Even if the Koenig property does not become the site of this proposed park, the public input gathered at these workshops will still be valuable," according to Noyes.

"I'm fairly confident that whatever we learn from the charrette process really could be applied to any site because I really think the concerns are going to be the same wherever we go," he said.

The driving force behind this proposed park concept is the perceived need for an ORV riding area in Oakland County.

Currently, there are more than 11,000 ORV licenses in the county representing more than 7,000 households and yet there are zero legal riding areas accessible to the general public.

The closest place for people to ride ORVs is in Genesee County at a place called the Mounds, a 370-acre county-operated ORV park located in Mt. Morris.

On average, ORV owners spend $500 annually on trips to enjoy their hobby. Of that, 65 percent is spent in the destination community where the ORV use occurs, Noyes said.