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Park opponents urge Village referendum

Mayor Bob Staton and vice mayor Nick Weedman get a chuckle out of remarks by Albert Gooch during a meeting on a proposed park. Mayor Bob Staton and vice mayor Nick Weedman get a chuckle out of remarks by Albert Gooch during a meeting on a proposed park.

FLAT ROCK — For the first time since it has been publicly debated, a proposed Flat Rock park received a mostly thumbs down from residents who feared the result will be a longterm financial burden and a property tax increase to cover operating and maintenance cost.

The Flat Rock Village Council heard from 13 residents Monday afternoon, most of whom urged the council to be cautious. The council met for an hour and 25 minutes and spent most of that time listening to comments from the public.
The council created the Highland Lake Park Exploratory Committee last fall to study whether the village should buy the golf course for use as a park. The committee recommended that the village should develop a park for passive use with walking trails, a playground, picnic shelters and other amenities.
Several residents said they did not believe web-based surveys or public meetings had produced an objective measure of Flat Rock residents' views. Several speakers also said they believe the area has ample park space and plenty of walking trails now.
"Jackson Park has walking trails that are relatively flat," said Park Rayfield. "There are three children's playgrounds."
The fact that the current owners are selling Highland Lake Golf Club does not mean a new owner would operate it as a golf course, he said.
"I wouldn't rule out the possibility — which I think has been ruled out — that it could be maintained as a golf course in the future."
John Wheeler told the council that the village will be taking private property off the tax rolls and will take on operating costs that have not been quantified.
"I think that it needs to be spelled out really clearly and let the people who are going to have skin in the game vote on whether they want to have a park or they don't want to have a park," he said.
John Dockendorf, a Highland Park Exploratory Committee member, said he favors the park. He observed that the opponents, most of whom were retirees, represented a different point of view than had been seen at a nighttime meeting last fall, when working parents rose to speak in favor of a park in their community.
As parents who take their children to parks in other towns, "We think a park is a fantastic idea," he said.
Dockendorf said the exploratory committee deliberately used higher estimates for jobs like maintenance and mowing. He suggested if the work were put out for competitive bids, the cost would come in lower.
"As a business owner, I know I wouldn't pay 35 bucks an hour to mow a property that size," he said.
The opponents said they just did not see the need to spend $1.1 million to buy the land and $1.4 million to develop it and then commit to yearly costs.
"I would tell you that I'm not going to move out of Flat Rock over this issue and I'll pay my taxes," said Mike Buck. "But unless somebody can convince me there's some benefit, it seems like we're overparked already with the national park here and Jackson Park. I don't see anything in it for residents."

Bob Demartini warned that if the council commits longterm to the park it could come up short if a greater need arises in the future.

"Should we do a referendum? Because it is very likely a majority of the people of Flat Rock are not going to want to make that kind of commitment with the impact it's going to have on the future activities of the Village," he said. He said relying on grants is unwise.

"There's one thing about grants that you can count on," he said, "and that is that you can't count on grants."


One resident said flood plain that covers two-thirds of the 66-acre tract poses a threat to improvements. The village could spend money on walking trails, landscaping and mulch, for instance, only to see it all wash away in a big rain.
Councilman Ron Davis questioned that scenario.
"I've seen parks in my hometown that flooded and they had facilities and when the flood went away the facilities were still there," he said.

Any construction in the floodplain, he said, would be governed by the strict regulations of the village's flood damage prevention ordinance.

The Village Council took no formal action on any of the options laid out by Mayor Bob Staton. He and Councilman Nick Weedman met with County Manager Steve Wyatt on park operation options. Among the ideas on the table, Staton said, were buying and developing the park and turning it over to the county to run, contracting with the county to run it through a fee, using a private contractor to manage it and paying the county for maintenance or not involving the county at all.

"We've got a lot of homework to do," Mayor Staton said, "including getting a handle on maintenance costs and operating costs."