Council member calls park phasing ‘dishonest’
Lansing City Council members are inching their way toward starting the first phase of Lansing Community Park - but not without hearing the objections of one council member.
During a discussion at a work session last week about capital improvement projects facing the city, talk turned to phase I of the proposed Lansing City Park, which would include grading of the park's entire 128 acres, seeding of three full-size and two youth soccer fields and construction of roads circling the park. Cost of the first phase has been estimated at $3.5 million.
While not objecting to the park per se, Council member Robert Ulin said he still had lingering questions months after a $50,000 master plan study was presented to the city.
The plan, developed for the city by Jeffrey L. Bruce & Co., recommends the park, located on a rolling tract of land near Gilman and 4-H roads, be built in five phases at a total of just over $22 million. That's down from the planners' original figure of $30 million.
The park, as proposed in the master plan, would include the soccer fields, a large open space where community events such as Lansing DAZE could be accommodated, along with a Lansing DAZE pavilion, a farmer's market shelter, a football field, a baseball field, three softball fields, an amphitheater, sheltered picnic areas, walking trails, and a state-of-the-art aquatic center featuring a "lazy river" where visitors ride along on floatable devices, water slides and a 1,000-gallon bucket that fills with water before dumping itself on anticipating children.
Ulin reminded his colleagues the council had not adopted the master plan, and he said he wasn't ready to proceed with any phasing before taking care of other business.
"We need to decide what we're going to do, and we need to tell the people what our plan is," Ulin said. "If they buy into it, then we start implementing the plan. Not this incremental approach; then we (may) wake up some day and realize, 'My god, it's turned out to be $40 million.'"
That brought a harsh rebuke from Council member Andi Pawlowski, who worked with a committee that first proposed the park to the council.
"Well, it might be $50 million by the time we get it built at the rate we're going, Bob." Pawlowski said.
She reminded Ulin that planners put no timeline on how quickly to build the park. She said one suggestion was to build it over a 30-year period
"We're not going to build it all at once. Lansing can't afford to build it all at once. That's never been a part of the plan," she said.
Ulin, however, remained steadfast.
"I'm not saying it's a bad idea," Ulin said. "I'm just saying we are being inherently dishonest if we don't figure out what we want to do to what level of detail, projected out over the years and say, 'This is what we're going to do. This year we're going to do this, in five years we're going to do that."
Mayor Kenneth Bernard reminded Ulin that planners presented a phasing proposal in the master plan, which was presented in January.
When Ulin balked at the cost - "I just recall some public comment when it came out in the newspaper saying it was around $30 million, and I said, 'Whoa. I didn't sign up for that'" - Council President Kenneth Ketchum said the constituents he heard from praised the park plan and the council for being forward-thinking.
Bernard said he preferred going ahead with work on the first phase and then asking voters down the line whether they'd support a bond issue or bond issues to pay for subsequent phases, including the swimming pool.
"And then the people will tell us if they want it or not," he said.
Because council members can't take binding action at a work session, Bernard said he would bring the issue to a regular council meeting for further discussion of phase one.
"We'll just have to take it to a meeting, put it to a vote and see where we stand on it," Bernard said. "If we don't do it next year, we do it the year after. It's all a question of timing."
Also at Thursday's work session, council members declined to take a stand on the proposed hiring of a professional county administrator.
¢ Mayor adds his perspective to debate over smoking ban. Page 7B
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