After years of discussion and appraisals, Commerce Township will be gaining approximately 500 acres of state-owned land to be used as a public outdoor recreation facility.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Rodney Stokes authorized the DNR to move ahead with the land transaction at the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) meeting on Thursday, June 9.
The transaction includes 502 acres of the east unit of the Proud Lake Recreation Area, which will be sold to the township in two phases for a total of $2,805,000.
The first phase involves a 201-acre parcel at a cost of $1,282,140. That transaction must be closed on by Sept. 15. The second parcel will include 301 acres for a price of $1,522,860, with a closing date of no later than April 15, 2012.
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 portion north of Wise Road remains undeveloped, while the southern portion was formerly home to a Nike missile base used by the U.S. Department of Defense in the 1950s. The former missile silos on the property have since been filled in, and the area now consists of open fields.
The land was originally purchased by the state in 1945 for hunting and fishing purposes. However, under the DNR’s land consolidation process, the parcel of land was slated for disposal because of circumstances that prevented the DNR from providing hunting and other recreational opportunities on the property.
The DNR 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.
According to Commerce Township Supervisor Tom Zoner, this prompted township officials to enter into discussions with the state because residents around the area wanted to make sure the land was “preserved for all eternity.”
However, over the past few years, a number of factors prevented a deal from coming to fruition — including a land appraisal of $13.2 million. The DNR subsequently had the land appraised at the drastically lower price tag of $2.8 million.
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 DNR property to be sold based on its highest value use. However, since then Commerce officials rezoned the area for park and recreation land uses. And with the current economic times, property values have continued to diminish.
The lower appraisal figure prompted the Commerce Township Board of Trustees to again enter into negotiations to purchase the land from the state.
“You can’t replace land,” Zoner 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 generated by millage authorized by voters in 2004 to purchase the property. The millage was passed at 0.4 mills to be levied over 10 years to provide funds to purchase open space and to improve lands for parks and recreation.
Meanwhile, under the purchase agreement, the township must adhere to certain stipulations, including keeping the property open to the public as open space, wildlife habitat, and public outdoor education purposes and maintaining it in a generally natural condition. Some allowed improvements that can be made to the area are an outdoor heritage education and recreation center, sheltered archery and gun ranges, fishing ponds, trails, signage and related infrastructure.
On the formerly developed Nike missile site, active outdoor recreation facilities and fields may be installed as long as the property does not contain sensitive or valued natural characteristics.
The township is also allowed to charge fees to offset the costs of ownership, operation, and maintenance of the property.
Meanwhile, proceeds from the land sale will go into a restricted fund the DNR uses to purchase land for public recreation purposes. A portion will also be used to acquire replacement lands for property that meet the criteria to be purchased from the state’s Game and Fish Protection Fund.