Commission rejects proposal to develop Kalamazoo-area golf course

KALAMAZOO COUNTY, MI – A proposed zoning change that would lead to the redevelopment of the Prairies Golf Course was denied by the Oshtemo Township Planning Commission on Thursday evening.

Developers were seeking the change to allow for a mixture of commercial and residential on the 116-acre property.

The property with an active golf course, located at 5303 W. Main Street, just west of the North Drake Road intersection, is currently zoned to allow for residential development on the site.

Developers with AVB and The Hinman Co. had requested a zoning change to a mixed-use commercial and residentially zoned property on over half of the course and a multi-use family zoning on the remainder. AVB entered into an agreement with the golf course’s owner, the Elks Lodge No. 50, in 2014 to develop the course.

Not one planning commissioner supported the proposed zoning change at the April 28 meeting.

A total of 25 Residents spoke out against the proposal Thursday, either in person, or through letters submitted to the planning department and read by Oshtemo planning director Iris Lubbert, while only two people spoke on behalf of the proposed changes, one of whom was the co-founder of ABV.

Lubbert also spoke against the proposed zoning change on behalf of the planning department, stating that the proposal ignored a majority of the recommended standards and would nullify the township’s master plan.

Most Residents who opposed it voiced concerns with traffic issues in what is already a congested area Southwest of the West Main Street / North Drake Road intersection. In addition, the majority of comments centered around the elimination of a long-standing golf course, the loss of green space and additional development that many did not see as necessary while a high number of vacant business properties dot the community.

Resident Wayne Fuqua was among those who spoke against the project, Addressing all of those items and then challenging the planning commission to consider reexamining the master plan for the community.

”I think before we approve any more commercial development, we need to have an Inventory of what’s already out there that is not being used, an Inventory of the commercial space that could be developed and certainly not take a beautiful golf course in a beautiful , natural area and turn it into commercial development where there might be alternative spaces to develop it, ”Fuqua said.

Fuqua went on to compliment the Developers, AVB and Hinman, for some of their previous work, telling them they had done some wonderful projects in the community but that they also need to be responsible for their shortcomings and failures, pointing to three separate projects where he felt the lack of care for the environment has been evident at the Westgate Development, the Corner at Drake and adjacent to the Sports Forum.

“Their motto is a great motto,‘ build something better, ’” he said of AVB. “My concern is that when you have a nice environmental space, a beautiful golf course like that, it’s going to be hard to do anything better.

“My suggestion would be to find a better space to develop and then do the development with environmental sensitivity and sustainability in mind.”

Many people addressed the fact that they had enjoyed the course for decades and that different generations of their family had played there. Some residents spoke about how they bought their specifically for the golf course, and the peace and quiet that went along with it.

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s not going to be a golf course,” said Joe Gesmundo, cofounder of ABV, after listening to the person after speaking against the project. “There are a number of uses, zoned R2 and R4 and those uses allow for a certain density, and from our perspective worst case it will be developed Underneath those zoning classifications, but the preference would be to finish what we all collectively started.”

Gesmundo went on to the state that the Township planning commission, community and developers had been in talks since 2016 and that he wants to see them work together.

“Our vision for this property is to do something unlike anything that’s been done in southwestern Michigan, maybe the western part of Michigan,” he said. “There are half a dozen of these types of projects that we have planned in the country, really.

“It’s mixed use that would have different kinds of residential, different types of smaller scale commercial, residential over commercial, walking, green space. But it’s difficult to get to a point where you’re developing the plan when you can’t finish what we started in 2016, and when I say we, I mean the planning commission and the community. ”

A longtime Elks member, Paul De Haan, commented that he had played at the course for 51 years and wanted it maintained as a green space, but that he supported ABV.

“It’s a beautiful green space and I keep hearing this evening how you want to maintain it as a green space,” he said. “Let me tell you as an Elks member in 2014, AVB and the Elks entered into an agreement as the Elks were very close to shutting down. AVB came in and an option was taken. They do fine work.

“If you don’t want development, let the people of Oshtemo Township make an offer to them. I challenge this planning commission to go out and see what kind of real support you have for that space. ”

De Haan was the only person other than Gesmundo that voiced his support at the meeting before the planning commission voted against the resoning.

Resident Mary Shuster pointed out the township’s vision statement, which calls for maintaining a “sustainable and innovative community built through a legacy of planned, responsible growth and rural preservation.”

“If you take that away, who is getting that rural atmosphere?” Shuster said. “Certainly, not the people in this area. … It’s not important to make the right decision, it’s important to make the right decision

The resoning request, following the planning commission’s recommended denial will now go before the Oshtemo Township board on May 10 for a final vote.

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