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ORV Park discussions put to an end

by Trevor Keiser

August 21, 2013

Residents lined up to give a thankful handshake to Oxford Township Board members for voting down the proposed ORV Park unanimously. Photo by Trevor Keiser
Those worried about noisy weekends, heavy traffic through local neighborhoods and depreciating home values due to an ORV (Off-Road Vehicles) park can rest easy.

After several meetings and "standing room only" public hearings for both Oxford Village and Township residents, officials took residents' concerns to heart. Their actions may ended any future plans of an Oakland County ORV park in Oxford Township.

By a unanimous vote, township officials denied support to Oakland County's Parks and Rec. to seek a $7.2 million grant application through the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to acquire 860 of the 1,200-acre Koenig Sand & Gravel property. The grant would have covered costs for a series of sound tests at the site, too.

"It was a good idea, but wrong location and burdensome on the infrastructure like roads, police and fire," said Township Treasurer Joe Ferrari. "There is also no local control once it's approved. It's not a win-win for Oxford township residents and the residents close to it would lose their peace and tranquility and their property value would decrease as a result."

However, if they want to put an ORV park in Detroit, Ferrari said he would be in full support. He said Oakland County could do a regional authority with Wayne and Macomb Counties like they do already with the Detroit Zoo and Detroit Institute of Arts.

"They (Detroit) got tracks of vacant," he said. "They say it can't be done but that's how Poletown was built."

Trustee Jack Curtis said he voted against moving forward with the park after forming an "unbiased opinion based on the people of the township."

"My vote was that way after talking to over 200 people who live in and around that area (Lakeville road and Ray Road) that told me their disdain for the project," explained Curtis. "Sure if there was no ORV Park in that proposal they would have loved an adventure park, but they don't want the motorcycles, the quad runners and the jeeps and the traffic and the noise."

Curtis, who also lives less than a quarter of a mile to the entrance of the Koenig site said it's very noisy.

"You can hear chain saws and you can hear the lawnmower as you're walking down the Polly Ann Trail," he added. "Nothing led me to believe you needed to do a study (to show) that 300 ORV's running around in that park isn't going to be noisy."

The majority of the residents who spoke both at the Village and Township public hearings were in the "no" category

"I think a lot of people that are proposing this park are missing a key ingredient as to why most of us moved to Oxford," said Ed Turowski. "The peace and quiet is very, very much appreciated."

Oxford resident Bob Rowland agreed.

"If I moved into a neighborhood and there was a pig farm inside the neighborhood, I would be expected to put up with the smell, he said. "But I shouldn't be expected to put up with the smell of a pig farm if I was there first."

Then there were those who spoke in favor, like Davisburg resident Jim Kitson, who wanted to set the record straight that not everybody who is ORV user is a "big dumb mud trucker."

"I am a 56-year-old (business) professional and I've had good fortunate of riding around the country in a trail riding aspect," he said. "Very, very much of the trail riding is slow, controlled and not wild and crazy like everybody wants to paint that picture."

Finally there were those who were "in the middle" like Oxford resident Michael Salisbury, who loves off-roading up north, but could see benefit of it being in Oxford.

"I can take my hard earned money and all my friends and we can go up north and we can spend our money up there or we can spend it here in our community," he said. "I think we should all think out of the box and try not to be selfish and look at it in a perspective of will this help Oxford and is this good for the community? Not just for me and not just for you."

Oxford resident Michael McDonough, said he heard a lot of emotion, but not any real good reason why sound testing shouldn't take place.

"My main concern from what would happen is what is the alternative? What is going to happen to this property? I don't know of any developers (planning on building houses.) That site could be used for a landfill other commercial uses," explained McDonough. "It's prime real-estate for other people to come in and scoop it up from the owners. The owners don't want it and they don't need it, so this might be our best bet, so why not move forward and at least see what could come out of this?"

According to Curtis's calculations of the 53 people who spoke at the township public hearing 38 oxford residents were against the proposal, four Oxford residents were for the proposal and 11 were non-residents in support of the proposal.

"It's nice that people (outside of Oxford) try to put things in your backyard," he said. "But you would have never had a development like Waterstone had there been an ORV Park across the street from it."

Township Supervisor Bill Dunn said he voted against moving forward because he fears state control.

"The State of Michigan scares the hell out of me," he said. "Once you give up your rights and put them in the hands of the state they can make the rules and change the rules. I just don't want to give up our control to the state and let them do whatever they want."

Dunn also didn't believe people coming from outside the township to use the park would be spending money inside the township other than maybe getting gas.

"There is no place in town to park now, never mind hauling a four wheeler," he said.

As far as working with Oakland County Parks and Rec., Dunn said "they did everything right."

"They were forthright and they were more than cooperative with the Oxford Leader to make sure everybody got to know what was going on, nothing was done behind the scenes," he added. "I got to compliment them. They were very well prepared."

While they are disappointed OCPR Executive Officer Dan Stencil said they understand.

"We came in with a very transparent approach. We attempted to listen to the needs and desires of the local residents and try to address their concerns, but at the end of the day it was something that especially the immediate neighbors near the site did not want support and the township took action accordingly," Stencil said. "We said from the beginning if we didn't have the resolution of support from the community we weren't going to pursue the project."

Stencil did admit that they were taken by surprise when the board took a vote.

"(The township) had given us the impression that no action would be taken until the next meeting," he said. That (vote) helps us because it certainly tells us where we stand, so we can consider other potential sites and move forward."