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Public hearings set for ORV park proposal

by CJ Carnacchio

August 07, 2013

Residents looking for an opportunity to comment on the proposed 860-acre adventure recreation/off-road vehicle (ORV) park on the Koenig Sand & Gravel property in Oxford Township will have two opportunities to do so next week.

A "refined" park proposal will be presented at the Oxford Village Council's 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 13 meeting and the Oxford Township Board's 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 14 meeting.

A public hearing will accompany each of the presentations. Citizens are invited to voice their opinions, ask questions and give suggestions during these hearings.

Jon Noyes, planning supervisor for Oakland County Parks and Recreation (OCPR), assured that neither board will be asked to vote on anything at these meetings.

That will come next month.

Noyes is planning to ask Oxford officials to approve resolutions of support for the grant application at the Sept. 10 village council meeting and the Sept. 11 township board meeting. The Oxford Township Parks and Recreation Commission would be asked to approve one as well at its Sept. 10 meeting.

"We would hope the value of a recreation asset for the community would be something they would have interest in (as far as) the enhancement of quality of life as well as economic impact," said OCPR Executive Officer Dan Stencil.

An application for a $7.2 million grant to acquire 860 acres of the 1,200-acre Koenig site was submitted earlier this year by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). If approved, the monies would come from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.

Stencil noted this grant is the DNR's "number one priority" in terms of land acquisition grants it's submitted.

If awarded the grant, the DNR would purchase and own the land, however, it would 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 park.

Although the grant process only requires a resolution of support from the township board, Noyes said the county wants resolutions from all three bodies.

"This is one of those projects where we do want broad support, otherwise it would really be a challenge for it to be a viable county park if we're going into it with opposition," he explained. "We set the bar high. But if we're going to do it, we want to do it right."

If resolutions are not obtained from all three boards, Noyes said planning for the proposed park would cease.

"The project is done (at that point)," he said. "Why move forward with a project that doesn't have support (from all the local units of government)?"

The "refined" proposal is the result of three design charrettes held to garner citizen input on the park concept.

Stencil called the charrettes "a good public engagement" because they consisted of an "honest and open" exchange of opinions.

"I think (the charrettes) were very beneficial in helping us refine the proposal that will be brought to the local officials," Noyes said. "I feel like we have a better product than when we started in the springtime."

"It was good to have folks identify critical issues that would need to be addressed," Noyes continued. "Noise, obviously, was certainly a big concern. Conflicts between users. Preserving rural character. Protection of the environment."

"It was also nice to hear people tell us what they wanted, not just what they didn't want," he added.

Noyes noted the purpose of the charrettes was "not to develop some grand consensus" about the park among residents.

"It's not like we had everyone in the township vote on this," he said. "This process was really to just help us get a better proposal that could be put in front of the local boards."

"You're still going to have people who are 100 percent against it and you're going to have people who are 100 percent in favor," Stencil noted.

As a result of the charrettes, the proposed park now includes a soccer complex accessible from Lakeville Rd.; an area for disc golf and cross country skiing; an equestrian camping area and stables; a loop-shaped equestrian trail connected to the Polly Ann Trail; and an off-leash dog park with access to a pond, beach and lake.

An ORV riding area is still integral to the proposal. This would include ORV trails, challenge elements and a training/instruction area, all contained within a fenced-in area with a single controlled access point.

With regard to noise concerns, ORVs at the park could be required to have mufflers that meet or exceed all sound emission standards set by state law. Motocross motorcycles could be required to be modified for operation on public trails or land.

Noyes acknowledged that no matter what's done to mitigate the impact of ORVs, it will never be enough for some residents.

"There's still some folks that are dead-set against ever allowing ORV-riding experiences in Oxford. They just don't feel like that's appropriate for the setting," he said.

On the other hand, Noyes believes there are enough folks who are at least willing to allow the county to conduct some tests "that we can make a good case to the elected officials to allow us to do so." These tests would be conducted "to find out what the actual impact is" with regard to noise and dust.

The 69-acre lake located at the property's south end, near Lakeville Rd., would allow motorized watercraft for special events only.

Special events could include water skiing competitions, according to Noyes.

"That's the sort of thing I think could be appropriate to the site because of its economic value to the community and because it wouldn't be happening every weekend, (so) you wouldn't be getting the impact on the local residents."

Non-motorized watercraft would be permitted on the lake whenever it's not being used for a special event.

"The thing that (charrette participants) pointed out, which was real difficult for us to argue with, is because the lake is situated right up against the roadway, there's a minimal buffer for sound," Noyes said. "With the close proximity to the Polly Ann Trail, to the houses south of Lakeville Road, to the school, (the residents) just felt like that could be a real issue if for example, we opened it up to jet skis."

The other concern was given the lake is only 69 acres, "it could become very congested very quickly," he added. "The idea of actually creating a place where non-motorized boats could have a little bit of refuge, compared to some of the surrounding lakes, might be an attribute."

Water skiing and wakeboarding may be allowed on the lake, outside of special events, via a cableway in which the user's rope and handle is pulled by an electrically-driven cable as opposed to motorized watercraft.

The 69-acre lake's north bay would be strictly for non-motorized watercraft only (for which there for would a rental facility), swimming and scuba diving. The smaller lake located to the northeast of the 69-acre lake would not allow any type of boating.

All the park's lakes would be open to ice fishing and fishing from shore and docks.

An "adrenaline sports" area would be located in the park's northwest corner. It would be a fenced-in area containing zip-lines, aerial trekking, alpine slides and a technical course for mountain biking.

The proposal also calls for a nature preserve in the park's northeast corner, opportunities for archery hunting and trapping, and a combined fire hall/park maintenance facility located in the park's southeast corner along Lakeville Rd. The facility would be designed in conjunction with the Oxford and Addison fire departments.

"That's just an option, but by including it as part of the plan, it allows us to explore it," Noyes explained. "This notion of leveraging value by sharing services or sharing space could (result in) significant cost-savings to all involved."

Should this proposed park project obtain its $7.2 million grant and Koenig's owners agree to sell, Noyes assured there would still be local control when it came to issues such as rezoning and site development.

"Just because (the local governing bodies) support a (grant) application doesn't necessarily mean the community no longer has a say in what gets built," he said.

"Just like anyone else who was developing a site," Noyes said the proposed park would require site plan approval from the township.

"It has been the practice of Oakland County Parks for almost 50 years that we always abide by local (requirements and ordinances)," he noted. "It's the same with all of the other parks that we operate. If we're going to develop a site, we (submit) a site plan and go before the boards to ask for permission to do the development. We follow the local zoning requirements (with regard to) setbacks, parking, all that stuff.

"That's part of why it actually takes us so long to create public access when we do make an acquisition."

Noyes noted if usually takes the county "six to nine months, if not a year" before a newly-acquired property is made accessible to the public. "That's how long it takes us to go through the local boards to get permission to do the work on the site," he said.