Election 2012: Lansing Ballot Issues Focus on Council, Land Sales

Aug 3, 2012

Michigan voters go to the polls on Tuesday to cast their votes in the state primary election.

WKAR's Melissa Benmark sat down recently with MLive.com Lansing bureau reporter Angela Wittrock.  They talked about  Lansing ballot proposals to sell the Waverly Golf Course, and to reduce the number of times the Lansing City Council meets each year.

ANGELA WITTROCK:  Historically, the Lansing City Council has more meetings than its counterparts across the state. We have probably twice as many meetings as other municipalities, and where that becomes problematic is that having the meetings on a Monday night necessitates things like having extra security in place, having extra staffers working. So you have to pay the city clerk, the city clerk staffers, the administrative staff, the electricity, and the two security guards who check you in, the police officer who sits in the back of the room. So, for an extra twenty meetings a year, that can be, according to the city clerk, quite expensive.

MELISSA BENMARK:  You’ve done some reporting recently also to indicate that there’s a fair amount of absenteeism on the part of some city council members and the mayor from the meetings.

WITTROCK:  Correct. And it’s important to remember, the mayor is not required by the charter to attend. He often times has other things to do, he says, and even though his predecessor was more of a religious attendee, it’s not required. He does always have someone there representing him as required.

However, it is part of the council members’ jobs to be there, and there are some who have had a harder time making it. They say that they’re still doing a lot of work and they’re still completing their tasks, but it’s hard to make that sell, I think, to some of the citizens when they don’t see your face on television on Mondays.

BENMARK:  Also on the ballot is the Waverly Golf Course issue. And there was a story recently in the Lansing State Journal about the golf course being used by a farmer to make hay for his cows. That indicates to me that the thing is pretty far advanced. Do you think this was ever going to go back to being a golf course?

WITTROCK:  No, I don’t think so. You know, Mayor Bernero has been pretty clear that Lansing has a lot more parkland than any city its size. I mean, we have an incredible amount of green space, which on one hand, that’s a great selling point for this area. You know, you can live in an urban area and have beautiful green space. On the other hand, in really tough economic times like what we’ve been in for the past eight years, it’s difficult to maintain all this parkland.

And Waverly is huge. It’s not technically within the city of Lansing, and it takes a lot of money to maintain a golf course. Groesbeck is still a beautiful golf course, it’s wonderfully maintained. Lots of people I know golf there and love it, but I think one reason why it has been so successful as of late is because it’s the only one left. So, probably the chances of having Waverly become a golf course again are, and have been, slim to none for a long time.

BENMARK:  I know there’s been a movement to sell it before, which has not been successful. I almost get the impression that because of the continued economy, people are kind of just tired of it. It makes me wonder if it has a better chance of passing this time on the ballot.

WITTROCK:  I think the successful passage of a similar resolution to allow for the sale of the Red Cedar Golf Course, and seeing some of the really interesting plans that have come out for it might ease the mind a little bit of some folks who were dead set against it.

And the fact of the matter is, you know, what else are you going to do with it? A farmer, as you mentioned, is baling hay from it, so that tells you it’s not being used. It’s becoming quite a bit of an eyesore to a lot of people, and there are definitely property owners who live around it who are probably tired of looking at it. Whether it passes or not, I think you can expect Mayor Virg Bernero’s administration to be very aggressive in continuing to try to get something done there. Because frankly it’s becoming an eyesore.

BENMARK:  Is there any early word or rumors of someone that the golf course kind of has their name on it, to buy?

WITTROCK:  There have been rumors the past few months that a cemetery company is looking at it as a place for a cemetery. Now, whether or not property owners would like to look out on a cemetery versus what they’re looking out on now, that remains to be seen. Other than that, there’s always the rumor that someone would like to put a mixed use development on it.

But the Waverly Golf Course is huge. You have to remember, when they approved the plans to sell Red Cedar, it was a small portion, about 12 acres. What they’re looking at here is the entire golf course, which is 100 acres or more. So, you know, you’d have to look at someone who could use all of that acreage. And, you know, possibly a cemetery. Who knows? It’ll be interesting to see what will go in there next.