Traverse City News and Events

East Bay, Conservancy Look To Create 200-Acre Public Park

By Beth Milligan | Jan. 9, 2019

East Bay Township and the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy (GTRLC) are looking to partner to acquire up to three parcels near Holiday Hills to create what could become a 200-acre public park.

Township Parks and Recreation commissioners this month will consider approving a resolution to apply for a Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Trust Fund grant to fund the acquisition of the properties. The three parcels in question include the Holiday Woodlands Reserve – 80 acres just south of Holiday Hills along Five Mile Road currently managed by a nonprofit group of local residents – as well as 64 adjoining acres owned by the Nolan family and another 51 acres listed for sale by the Dixon family.

GTRLC is lending its expertise in grant applications and property negotiations to help East Bay Township – the ultimate planned owner of the park – navigate the acquisition process. GTRLC has secured an agreement with the Nolan group for exclusive rights to purchase that parcel for two years. GTRLC Director of Land Protection Chris Sullivan says no deal has yet been reached for the Dixon property, but that he has “talked to the realtor” about a possible agreement.

“The big benefit and primary reason (the Dixon site) would be a nice addition is to have frontage on Prouty Road that would be a better public access point,” Sullivan says, adding the land offers an ideal site for a public parking lot for the park. “It’s been on the market for quite awhile…we’re still trying to figure it out.”

The nonprofit group managing Holidays Woodlands Preserve (pictured) have indicated their willingness to turn the property over to the township in exchange for paying off their mortgage. Jim Lamond is part of a group of residents who banded together in 2017 to buy the land from Chemical Bank for $165,000 to protect the property from development and open it to the public for recreational use. The group put down a $40,000 down payment, paid another $17,000 in 2018, and have $17,000 in the bank for 2019. The combined $74,000 puts the group near the halfway mark of paying off the mortgage debt. But fundraising remains an ongoing concern, according to Lamond, who says a deal with the township could be a “win-win” for all parties.

“Our concern would just be the maintenance of the property…but otherwise the whole idea was to make it open to the public, to go hiking and see the wildlife and have kids play back there,” Lamond says. “As long it remains open for the public good and public use, I’m in favor of it. I have no ego involved in this.”

The problem of park maintenance for 200 acres could be solved by nearby nonprofit ski resort Mt. Holiday. In a recent memo to East Bay Township, the Mt. Holiday board of directors indicated they had voted unanimously to enter into a letter of agreement to maintain and preserve the parcels on behalf of the township if acquired. One of Mt. Holiday’s signature events – Mud, Sweat, and Beers – runs directly through the Nolan property. The resort offered to take on maintenance in exchange for use of the property as a trailhead and for events, and for a small annual reimbursement – suggested at $5,000 – to cover equipment, gas, and wages. Mt. Holiday would not be responsible for costs associated with creating new trails or park improvments, but would cover liability for its workers, volunteers, and event attendees on the property.

Though acquisition costs for all three properties have not been officially determined – updated market appraisals still need to be obtained, and deals finalized with the sellers – the grant application to the DNR could be in the three-quarters-of-a-million-dollars range, says Sullivan. He expressed confidence to township officials in December that the application had a high probability of being approved. “We have a very high rate of success with this… I’m not sure that we’ve ever not gotten an acquisition grant from the Trust Fund,” he said. “(The project) looks like it would score well enough to be competitive.” Assuming township officials green-light the project, GTRLC plans to apply by an April deadline for the acquisition grant, and will learn in December if the funds have been awarded.

Township Supervisor Beth Friend told Parks and Recreation members that the project was particularly appealing because the township would be on the hook for almost no funding for the acquisition. The Holiday Woodlands Preserve property was sold at a steep discount by Chemical Bank to residents, meaning its current market value is likely significantly higher than $165,000 – the bank initially listed the site for $325,000. The DNR allows the difference between the property’s sale price and its actual market value to count toward the township’s required funding match for the grant. Sullivan also told the board GTRLC would be “on the hook” for the local match if funds came up short. 

“This is kind of a killer opportunity in that you have the ability to utilize the equity in another property to cover (the match)…and Mt. Holiday has come to the table and said we will maintain that property for you,” Friend said. “We’re looking at potentially no funds out and no resources to maintain the property (other than a stipend), while securing about 200 acres in an area that has been shown…to have a large amount of (future) growth.”

Both Friend and Sullivan point to Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) projections that show anticipated housing growth rates in the region by 2045. One of the most intense areas of anticipated growth is in East Bay Township, particularly near the Five Mile Road area. Sullivan says that without taking proactive steps to protect potential parkland, it will almost certainly be targeted for development in the coming years.

“To have two or three big contiguous parcels available is an opportunity I view like the (Grand Traverse) Commons,” Sullivan says. “The only reason we have the Commons is because we had this state hospital for so long where everything else developed around it. This could be the same thing: a block of protected parkland in the middle of a highly developed area. If we don’t take that opportunity now, we might lose it.”

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