Heartwood headache

Commission chambers fills with people opposed to development of wooded area that would impact trails

Blackrocks Brewery co-owner Dave Manson, standing center, addresses the Marquette City Commission Monday night. The meeting was packed with people concerned that city officials are seeking qualifications from developers interested in the Heartwood Forestland property, which has popular recreational trails located throughout. (Journal photo by Jaymie Depew)

MARQUETTE — Over 70 people attended the Marquette City Commission meeting Monday night, filling the Marquette City Hall commission chambers.

The majority of attendees were there in support of trails maintained by the Noquemanon Trail Network since city officials are currently seeking requests for qualifications from potential developers interested in the Heartwood Forestland parcels, which have parts of the popular recreational trails placed throughout.

The city’s solicitation is for parcels 9, 10, 11, 12 and 35. Parcel 35 is adjacent to the south NTN trailhead.

The city purchased the Heartwood parcels in 2005 for $5 million, according to Marquette City Manager Mike Angeli. In order to inform the commission’s future decision-making, the board appointed a Heartwood Forestland Ad Hoc Committee. That group presented a report and recommendation which was reviewed by the city planning commission.

In October 2006, Angeli said the city and NTN entered into a permit for use of the property and to develop trails. However, part of the city’s master plan and the Heartwood committee’s plan was to pursue the sale and development of specific parts of the property.

In the end, planning commissioners designated 1,258 acres for conservation, while labeling 323 acres as “future planned area” and 111 acres as a “potential development” area. The city commission adopted the blueprint in April 2011.

Angeli said two developers have recently shown interest in Heartwood property and that both seem interested in working with the NTN.

“(There’s) a larger story, if you will, that directly involves the property I’m talking about,” Angeli said. “At about this time next year we’re going to lose the tax revenue for We Energies, the electricity plant in north Marquette. At its peak, in 2013, we received $1.6 million annually that went to the general fund.”

With losing that money, Angeli said he’s had to determine $600,000 in cuts already and that he’s responsible for finding another way to replace or absorb the remaining $1 million. The city owes $2.6 million on the Heartwood Forestland purchase.

“Annual budget places about $665,000 toward the Heartwood bond and reserve funding,” Angeli said, adding that the city has seven years left to pay the rest of the bond.

As the city moves forward, Angeli said they would look into incorporating a development agreement where developers would accommodate the trail system. He also said the city will consider waiving some RFQ requirements if the NTN was interested in purchasing Parcel 35.

Cary Gottlieb, president of the NTN, said the trails are one of the primary reasons people chose to live in the area and that he sent the city a letter asking that Parcel 35 be taken off the market. If the city is unable to do that, the NTN will look into buying the parcel, Gottlieb said.

“NTN is aware we do not meet many qualifications of the RFQ but hope the city considers them anyway,” he said.

Lori Hauswirth, the NTN’s executive director, said Marquette has a trail system that has been recognized worldwide.

“We keep hearing that the trails will be fine, but will the trail experience?” Hauswirth asked, explaining that the trails are unique because they’re entwined throughout trees and nature.

Dave Manson, co-owner of Blackrocks Brewery, said the trails are an important part of attracting people to the area and that his business sees numerous recreational enthusiasts who use the trails regularly.

“Ultimately you have a tough job and I get that … but understand the community is listening and watching,” Manson told the commission.

Commissioners, aside from Mayor Pro Tem Frederick Stonehouse who was absent from the meeting, spoke highly of the trails and commended everyone for coming to the meeting.

Commissioner Sarah Reynolds said even though she supports the NTN trails, the commission must represent all residents and that there are some people who would like to see the property developed.

“I think we’d all … hate to see anything happen to harm what we have here with those NTN trails,” she said. “I want to make sure we’re all partners together and do this right. I, as a commissioner, would be OK taking Parcel 35 off of the table.”

Commissioners Jenna Smith and Peter Frazier, who support the trail system, agreed that the city and NTN need to work more closely together.

Commissioner Paul Schloegel said the matter is an issue that has been pushed back on the shelf for years.

“It’s now time to start dealing with this,” he said, calling it a good opportunity for both sides to work with each other.

Commissioner Mike Plourde said he would personally like to see the NTN purchase the parcels.

“If you want to see the trails remain, I think that’s the solution,” he said, adding that he would oppose the development of high-rise and expensive apartments.

Mayor Dave Campana said the trails are an important asset to the community but creating a tax base is an issue.

“Property tax brings in approximately $10 million that goes to the general fund,” Campana said. “(That) pays for fire, police, water, sewer, streets … that’s what you’ve got to have.”

Campana reminded everyone that the city is in the very beginning phases of taking a hard look at the future of the property and that the commission is far away from making any sort of decision.