Commerce Township officials have received an appraisal from the state Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) on the 564-acre portion of the Proud Lake Recreation Area located off of Wise Road.
The DNRE has appraised the piece of land to be worth $2.8 million.
Over the past five years, Commerce has been trying to purchase this large portion of Proud Lake Recreation Area land located along either side of Wise Road west of Union Lake Road and non-contiguous to the main portion of the recreation area in order to keep the land in public ownership.
The land was originally purchased by the state in 1945 for hunting and fishing purposes. However, under the DNRE’s land consolidation process, the parcel of land was slated for disposal because of circumstances that prevented the DNRE from providing hunting and other recreational opportunities on the property. The DNRE had then considered selling the land on the open market, a possibility that drew criticism from local citizen groups and others concerned about the potential loss of open space.
In March 2007, township officials reached a tentative lease agreement with the DNRE to keep 564 acres of the recreation area in public hands. Commerce Township would have leased the property from the state for 25 years following an initial down payment of $1 million. The township would then have had the option to purchase the property at the end of the lease agreement.
However, due to complications and restrictions, the agreement never came to fruition.
Now, the DNRE has had the land appraised at $2.8 million, a drastically lower price tag than the $13.2 million the DNRE asked for it a few years ago.
One of the reasons for the lower price is that the property used to be zoned for residential land use and existing state law required the DNRE property to be sold based on its highest value use. However, since then Commerce has rezoned the area for park and recreation land use. And with the current economic times, property values have continued to diminish.
With the lower appraisal, the Commerce Township Board of Trustees has directed township attorneys to enter into negotiations to purchase the land from the state. According to Supervisor Tom Zoner, there are still some minor restrictions on the property and its price.
“(The state) gave us what we think is a purchase agreement, which we are looking over and clarifying,” Zoner said. “We are having a survey done, too, so we know what we are buying for sure. Then we will have our attorneys come back with a final proposal (to the board).”
Zoner mentioned that all these negotiations started because residents around the area wanted to make sure this land was “preserved for all eternity.”
“You can’t replace land,” he said. “Once it’s developed, it’s developed. We decided, ‘Let’s do the best we can to strike the best deal we can to preserve this land.’”
The township will use money collected from a millage passed in 2004 to purchase the property. The millage was passed at 0.4 mills to be levied over a period of 10 years to provide funds to purchase open space and to improve lands for parks and recreation.
According to Zoner, the millage was intended to raise approximately $7.5 million over those 10 years, but with declining property values, they now stand to receive $6.9 million — some of which they’ve already spent on other improvements.
Yet, Zoner is confident that the township will have enough money to purchase the land for $2.8 million if payments are spread out over two years.