Parks and Recreation advises against housing development at Halfman site

By: Andy Kozlowski, | Madison - Park News | Published October 21, 2015

MADISON HEIGHTS — The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board has voted against a Madison District Public Schools proposal that asked the city to donate its share of land near Halfman Elementary and allow the district to turn the entire property into a new housing development.

The recommendation to oppose the housing development has now been passed along to City Council, which may consider the issue at a later date.

The board’s decision follows a months-long process that involved public workshops, an open house and surveys soliciting resident feedback on how to use nearly 5 acres at Halfman Elementary and the former Sunset Park, located on the block bordered by Couzens, Brockton, Tawas and Hudson.

The 1.75 acres of land at Halfman are owned by the Madison school district, and the 3.1 acres at the former Sunset Park were deeded from the city to the district in a land exchange deal back in 2008. The district has been using the space primarily for parking at Halfman. However, if the district ceases to use the property for school or recreational purposes, the land reverts back to the city.

The district wants to convert the land into new housing in a collaborative effort with Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County and Lawrence Technological University. But that would happen only if the city agreed to donate its share.

In exploring the issue, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board identified four questions: 1) What is the project’s impact on the city’s park system? 2) Is the project consistent with the city’s adopted parks and recreation master plan? 3) What is the project’s impact on park and recreational opportunities in the city, given the lack of green space in the south end of the city? 4) How would the project affect the city’s ability to secure future grants for park acquisition and development?

According to the resolution that the board passed, the decision to oppose the district’s plan was primarily based on feedback from residents. Of more than 230 responses, 65.4 percent of all respondents and 86.2 percent of adjacent-area respondents indicated a desire to see the city’s entire 3.1-acre portion retained for park purposes.

In addition, the online survey results showed that the former Sunset Park acreage currently is used for a number of recreational activities, including bike riding, sports, dog walking, picnicking, exercising and more.

More than 70 percent of respondents also shared ideas for features they’d like to see added, including a new play structure (14 percent), developed green space (10.8 percent), tree planting (7.7 percent), a splash pad (5.8 percent), a walking path (5.5 percent), a pavilion (5.3 percent), soccer fields (3.5 percent), benches (3.5 percent), ball field improvements (3.3 percent), fitness equipment (2.7 percent), a community garden (2.4 percent), a recreation center (2.4 percent), a dog run (1.8 percent), a nature center (1.8 percent), basketball nets (1.5 percent), water features (1.1 percent), new fencing (1.1 percent), a volleyball court (0.8 percent), a drinking fountain (0.7 percent), skateboarding (0.7 percent), lighting upgrades (0.6 percent) and ice skating (0.6 percent).

There were respondents who said they’d like to see housing development (4.6 percent).

Of the 26 residents who spoke during a public workshop held Sept. 17 at Halfman, all of them indicated a desire to retain the entire 3.1-acre site as park and or green space.

The parks and recreation master plan indicates a deficiency of 1.3 acres of park space in the Halfman neighborhood, which already counts the 3.1 acres at Sunset Park toward the desired level of 4.4 acres of neighborhood park space. The board acknowledged that donating the city’s portion for housing development would have increased this deficiency.

With this in mind, the board recommended that City Council oppose the school district’s plan. At press time, City Council had not yet announced a date when it would discuss the issue. According to City Councilman Robert Corbett, further discussion might not be necessary.

“I cannot see any set of circumstances under which the City Council would approve development at that site,” Corbett said. “After the rather decisive bond vote (against the creation of a new middle school in Madison district), and what can only be described as a fairly one-sided public workshop in terms of opinions from the public, and now the nearly unanimous vote by the Parks and Recreation (Advisory Board), I think any reasonable person would say this project isn’t going anywhere. I don’t see a question anymore.

“The next step is the school board will have to go back, rethink its positions and goals, and seek a public mandate in support of those goals,” Corbett said. “I don’t feel an obligation for the council to do anything at this point.”

Madison Superintendent Randy Speck thought the process could’ve been handled better.

“The district was disappointed with how the Parks and Recreation committee went about their research and went about conducting a town hall meeting that was, in many ways, negative toward the school district and the ideas that the district had. But nonetheless, the committee can make their own resolutions, and the school district will continue to work with partners to help do our part in revitalizing the southern end of Madison Heights,” Speck said.

In an email, City Councilman Mark Bliss praised the public process.

“This open and transparent process is one that we will certainly replicate in the future,” Bliss said. “Our citizen-led boards are vital to the future of the city, as their ideas and feedback have the ability to draw attention to areas of need and impact real change. … I’m very proud of that.”

Bliss added that residents interested in applying to serve on a board should visit the city’s website at www.madison-heights.org.