Source: Sherman Publications

Former DPW site to appear on ballot
No support for selling museum, other properties at this point

by CJ Carnacchio

June 22, 2011

When Oxford Village voters head to the polls on Tuesday, Sept. 13, they will be asked for permission to sell a small piece of public property.

Council last week voted 3-2 to place the 0.431-acre vacant parcel, located on the west side of Pleasant St. across from Davison St. on the ballot. The property is adjacent to the Polly Ann Trail and situated between Dayton and Lafayette streets.

The property formerly housed the village’s DPW facilities until they were demolished in 2003. Since then, there had been discussion about turning the land into a small park, but no action was ever taken.

The eastern part of the property is zoned industrial, while the western portion is zoned for single-family dwellings.

Councilman Tony Albensi stressed that just because the village is asking voters for permission to sell the land “doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be sold,” if the ballot issue passes.

“It would still have to come to this council, or a future council, and (they would have to) say ‘yes, go ahead and sell it,’” he said.

Council was considering placing four other village properties on the ballot, but ultimately, it chose not to take any action at this time.

“I just think we’re very foolish to give up any village assets,” said Councilwoman Maureen Helmuth. “I would hate to give any of them up.”

“I’m not that willing to sell off village property either. I think that we should be proud of what we have,” said village President Teri Stiles.

One of those properties discussed last week was the Northeast Oakland Historical Museum building, located at 1 N. Washington St. in the downtown area.

“I love the museum and I don’t want to see the museum property sold, however, I do think we need to meet with the museum (representatives) and see if there’s a better location for it,” Helmuth said. “I think they need more room, but I do not feel that we need to sell the building. I think it’s a beautiful building and I just wish we could come up with a way to get more of their objects in there and better showcase them. I think everyone needs to go to the museum once or twice a year. There’s something new there every time I go in.”

“Personally, if we could find an alternative location that the historical museum agreed to, I would consider it,” Helmuth noted. “I do think the historical museum does need to have input in this. I don’t think anyone here is willing to just kick them out. But I do think the village council, whether this is on the ballot or not, needs to start having conversations with the museum as far as the future (regarding building maintenance and upkeep).”

Councilman Tom Benner noted he received a letter from teachers and students at Daniel Axford Elementary asking the village to not sell the museum because they take many field trips to it and it’s very convenient to walk there.

“If the students at a young age like that (can) go up to the museum and learn some history about this community, I think it’s affordable for us taxpayers to maintain it,” Benner said.

The village was also considering asking for permission to sell the 3.42-acres it owns at 98 S. Glaspie St.

The municipality bought the former industrial property back in 2006 for $700,000 in order to protect its groundwater supply from possible contamination and potentially expand Scripter Park.

The property is bordered by Scripter Park’s baseball diamonds to the north, the village’s water tower, treatment plant, underground wells and DPW garage to the south, and Round Lake to the east.

Officials weren’t keen on selling the property because they’re worried about the potential of a future owner contaminating the village’s water supply.

“It is sitting literally on top of our drinking water,” said Councilman Dave Bailey.

Bailey indicated he walked around the former industrial site prior to the village’s purchase of it and “it scared me what I saw.”

“It looked like a toxic waste dump,” he said. “I read what it said on some of those containers and I didn’t like what I read. I think we lucked out. We got it just in time. A new operator there could have been worse.”

Over the years, the property was home to Smith Silo, Spearing Tool & Manufacturing Co. and most recently, Sea Link International, a custom manufacturing company.

Council was also considering putting other properties on the ballot including the municipal complex on W. Burdick St. and approximately 2.7 acres of vacant land it owns off Dayton and Maple streets.

Motions were made for both, but no support was found.

Resident and former village president Chris Bishop encouraged council to at least put many of the aforementioned properties on the ballot to see what residents’ wishes are.

“As a citizen of Oxford, I wouldn’t be in favor of selling the museum necessarily, however, some of the properties are very good questions to ask of the voters,” he said. “I think this council should take advantage of the fact that it can do (here) what it can’t do in a lot of instances, like police and other things – have the opportunity for an advisory ballot.”

Bishop said putting things on the ballot is “an excellent way to get people to participate and survey their thoughts.”

“We’re busy today,” he said. “Not a lot of us have the time to spend in these forums, giving our opinions.”

Bishop noted government owning too much property isn’t a good thing.

“This taxing authority has purchased a lot of real estate in the last 10-12 years,” he said. “That’s not necessarily healthy for a community either.”

He cited Groveland Township as an example. Within the township is the 7,817-acre Holly Recreation Area, owned by the state, and the 361-acre Groveland Oaks County Park.

None of this land can be taxed by Groveland, however, the municipal does receive “payments in lieu of taxes” from the state for the land it owns. But these funds are only a mere fraction of what the township could collect if the land was privately owned and developed.

As for the county parkland in Groveland, it cannot be taxed and the county does not provide any funds to the township to make up for the lost revenue.

“They’re not very pleased with their tax collection,” Bishop said.

Stiles noted, “I really want to hear what people have to say” about any potential property sales.

Resident and former village president Sue Bossardet said the council has to do a better job of obtaining public input.

“These are the taxpayers’ assets and if you truly want people’s opinion, you need to make a more concentrated effort to solicit them and not just say at a meeting, we want the public’s input,” she said.