Council looks to put charter amendment on November ballot
By ZEINAB NAJM
HEIGHTS — The city is considering the ballot language for a proposed charter amendment to prohibit development on the Warren Valley Golf Course, north of the clubhouse.
The draft language request was approved unanimously at the April 26 council meeting. Councilwoman Nancy Bryer was late for the meeting and did not vote on the item.
Corporation Counsel Gary Miotke drafted the resolution which was discussed during a study session May 17. To place the amendment on the November ballot, the language would have to be submitted to the Clerk’s Office by 5 p.m. Aug. 2.
All council members were present at the study session where Councilman Tom Wencel led the discussion on the proposed amendment, which he previously brought forward.
“I didn’t just come up with this idea a couple months — or this year,” he said. “Ever since I’ve been on city council I’ve asked for some kind of documentation on restrictions on development of the golf course which we were told originally when we purchased the golf course that there would be no development.”
Wencel believes that the residents should make the decision in regards to any development on the golf course, instead of the council. In order to do so, the charter amendment would need to be put on a city ballot.
“Well, why should seven people, not even seven — four people have the power to dictate what happens in this golf course,” he said. “Instead I think it should be the residents to decide what happens in this golf course.”
Councilman Mo Baydoun said he is against building houses on the area being discussed, but added that the city should keep other options open because no one knows what the future holds.
He referenced adding a hotel, city building, water park or bike trail around the golf course, or expansion of the clubhouse and banquet hall, or even an indoor pool as improvements.
Wencel agreed that improvements are permitted and that he is referencing the area north of the clubhouse or north of the banquet facilities be off the table for development.
He also suggested a deed restriction in the event that the property is sold. The ban on the property would carry on regardless if the city sold it or not.
Miotke said the language he put together was bare bones language based on what he knew at the time.
“I was drafting this based on the motion that I received from the city clerk’s office,” he said.
“Language is going to have to be reviewed and changed and is going to end up having to reflect these different things. Development is a very broad term and very vague in this context.”
When speaking on the deed restriction, Miotke said the difficultly is who would be able to enforce it, and that he was not a fan of that concept.
“If the community ends up evolving and let’s say for example we have all recognized that bowling as a sport has declined very considerably right? Golf could potentially go the same sort of way,” he said. “Then, you have a deed restriction saying you have to have a golf course on this property when you could end up actually using it for perhaps some other public purposes, and that’s one of the problems with the whole development angle on that, essentially.”
Another point Miotke made was being more specific with the term “development” to include housing or urban housing in the area of the golf course Wencel referenced.
The topic of flooding in the neighborhood also was highlighted, which is a major reason many of the city council members are against housing development on the property.
Wencel said the resolution was a rough draft and a “great first step.” He also said that the council could figure out what the definition of “development” is so it is more specific.
Council Chair Dave Abdallah said there are no housing plans for the property.
“My vision for this place has always been is to continue to keep it as some sort of an entertainment venue for the city,” he said. “We can’t put restrictions on ourselves.”
When Treasurer Lisa Hicks-Clayton was on the council, she was also against housing on the property. She spoke during the study session as a resident, saying the council has to make a decision on what they’re actually deciding and how they’re going to get there.
“I want to remind you (about) the infrastructure,” she said. “There are three interceptors there, I believe. We have to be concerned about the interceptors and failure of infrastructure because we already know in the state of Michigan infrastructure is getting a D+ rating.
“The flood plain,” she continued. “I’m going to tell you, water always wins. Maybe we’ve realized that from Ecorse Creek, but water always wins and storm water management is a hot subject.
“Also, I want to remind you of historical preservation. That golf course designed so many years ago was the first non-segregated golf course in the United States.”
Currently, the city is in contract negotiations with Issa Brothers LLC which was awarded the bid as the new concessionaire for the golf course during a March 22 meeting.
Miotke said he had conversations with Issa Brothers representation recently and is still in contract negotiations. As part of the March 22 resolution, Miotke and the administration were directed to negotiate and prepare the proposed agreement in time for the first regular council meeting in April for consideration.
Construction discussions have taken longer because there were some issues that would have needed to be addressed regardless, Miotke said.
“My advice would be let us continue to negotiate,” he said. “This issue with the pumps — industrial pumps — is a really big issue, and we need to see what we can do. If we’re not able to get an agreement together then obviously we deal with it at that point.”
The city accepted bids from qualified organizations to manage the golf course and banquet center in February after the previous contractor chose not to renew the contract.
A city press release said that following communication from Oneida Golf Services attorneys to the city’s legal department, it was discovered that due to Oneida’s breech of its contractual responsibilities, critical, unaddressed maintenance issues within the clubhouse exist.
During the May 17 study session, Baydoun asked if the golf course is going to be open this year, to which Miotke said he is uncertain because of the condition of the property. The golf course irrigation pumps were not properly winterized, causing the pumps to freeze and cause extensive damage.
“We’re under the impression that the banquet stuff could clearly be done, we’re not necessarily certain with respect to the golf course this year,” he said.
The city has been owners of the golf course after purchasing it from Wayne County for $1.8 million in October 2018.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected].)