By Rosemary K. Otzman
If tri-community taxpayers vote for funding next year, a new, two-story district library complex will be built on the DNR property on the lake, just north of the Belleville Bridge in Van Buren Township.
And, fishermen on the lake will be an important part of the complex.
On Tuesday, after two hours of discussion, the Belleville Area District Library Board voted 6-1 to choose the Department of Natural Resources lakeside site as the place it wants to build a new library.
There were 26 people in the audience.
Treasurer Elaine Gutierrez cast the only no vote. She said as a real estate broker, she has her doubts because there are so many players: the DNR, the Spencers (who own the home next door that also will be purchased), the Wayne County Road Commission, and VBT.
She said if any one of these doesn’t follow through, it’s over. Gutierrez said she thinks the board needs a second plan. She also hates to leave the city. For example, the Harvest Fest would be up because “we’re not walking over the bridge for that.”
The Harvest Fest, set for this weekend in Belleville, is a cooperative effort between the museum and the library.
Gutierrez said she wants to see a new library within this decade and the board has been working on a site for three years and it needs to pass a bond issue, which will then take a year or two to get started.
“It’s going to take a long time,” she said, noting the architectural costs for the main library and the satellite library in Sumpter will be “another excessive cost.”
She said she would like a backup plan in case this goes to pot.
After her vote against the DNR site, she said her vote was for everyone who wants to stay in town.
Library Board Secretary Joy Cichewicz, chairman of the Building Committee, said she doesn’t know any library in the state that will be on such a spectacular site.
After her vote for the DNR site, Cichewicz said she’s happy the board made the decision.
One of the reasons for the decision, she said, was that the board has not been given one single action from the city that said they wanted the library to stay, until they sent over the appraisal for the library property and the city parking lot.
“We’re elected to make the decisions,” said Board Member Michael Boelter. “You don’t have to cross the Mackinac Bridge to get there,” he said of the DNR site.
The board also voted unanimously to put the satellite library site in the Sumpter Community Center in the 2,000 square feet of area recently vacated by Head Start.
Also, the board voted to notify all the people with whom they had property options that they are not going to accept the options, so they can sell to others.
“We’ve really just arrived at the beginning,” said architect Dan Whisler at the end of Tuesday’s meeting. “Now we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Whisler has to come up with more complete plans for the building and give a figure for construction based on the site. Then, the size of the bond issue and the millage needed to support it will be decided and a campaign started to persuade voters to pay for it.
He said if they hit an insurmountable roadblock, the board will step back and decide what it wants to do.
Whisler said four or five months down the road if they have to find another site, the easiest one to go back and revisit is the second-favorite Grace Baptist Church site in the city, also on Belleville Lake.
That site has been for sale for 13 years, he noted, adding it would be easier than going back to the multiple other options in the city that it had negotiated.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Pastor Robert White stood to make a statement, noting he did not want to sound as a salesman. He is serious, he said.
He said the $2.5 million he asked for when the library sent him a letter is not what the property is worth. He said he was not asked what it was worth but what price the church wanted to move.
He said the church diligently sought three developers to get prices on a church half the size of what they now have, plus one less house than they have now, and $2.5 million is what they came up with.
“I did not appreciate hearing from a source that the library board laughed at our proposal,” Pastor White said.
He said he talked to the library’s attorney John Day over the years and they had considered various prices for the property. Then the option letter came and the church set a price.
Pastor White said if the property doesn’t sell, the congregation will stay where it is.
He suggested the city close High Street and join the church property to Horizon Park for a library site on the lake. He said libraries have brought new businesses to several communities he named.
Near the meeting’s end, Board Member Michael Boelter called Pastor White back into the meeting to apologize for any remarks over the past few months that hurt him or his church.
Pastor White accepted the apology. He said if he sold the library his property for $890,000, which was the assessed value, he couldn’t go anywhere. He said he quoted what he had to have to move.
“I don’t want to be laughed at. This is the lowest I can go,” Pastor White said, adding he wants the city and the library to flourish.
Six days earlier, the library board held a public forum at Belleville High School before a packed crowd in the mini-auditorium. At that forum when he was asked how much it would cost to build a library, architect Whisler guessed “10 to 20 million dollars.”
At that meeting on Oct. 2, Cichewicz, chairman of the building committee, gave an hour-long power-point presentation on the sites the board had studied. She offered extensive information on four possible places for the main library: three in downtown Belleville and the DNR site just over the bridge in VBT.
Then, the audience asked questions and got answers for another hour and a half, being shut down at 9:40 p.m. by Board Chairman Mary Jane Dawson who said their time was up in the building.
Although the four sites were announced verbally at the end of the board’s Sept. 10 meeting, the documents concerning acquisition and development costs weren’t made available to study until Sept. 27. That meant the public had just the three days the library was open to go to the library and review the newly set-out paperwork before the public forum.
Then, it was just six days for the information to be digested by the public, without time for any of the local weekly publications to report. And there was little time for the public to offer input to the board before board members voted on the site.
At the public forum and again at Tuesday’s meeting, Belleville attorney Barbara Miller asked the board to put off the vote on the site selection for a month, to its November meeting, so the information could be disseminated and discussed by the public.
But the board said its architect said the decision needed to be made immediately.
Dawson said the information would be on the library’s web site the next morning and the video recording of the meeting would be on township cable stations the next day. Videographer Sam Cumberland was asked to get his coverage edited and on cable as soon as possible, but as of Tuesday the recording was still in Cumberland’s possession.
At the end of the forum, a four-color, three-page summary of the sites with maps and prices was distributed to those leaving the meeting.
On Thursday, Miller put written notes on the summary and copied them off to distribute them to the public in a personal effort to inform the public of the important Tuesday meeting.
In her Oct. 2 presentation, Cichewicz said if the library was put on the DNR property over the bridge, it would be “just 3/10 of a mile from Belleville, a seven-minute walk or a 35-second drive.”
The costs distributed on Oct. 2 were too low by $104,500 for the DNR site, boosting the total cost to $2,347,260. Library attorney John Day said the DNR asked for the actual price it originally paid for the property, which he found out earlier that day was $395,000, plus a 10% transaction fee.
The information on the library website was updated with the new figures.
The four sites discussed Oct. 2 were:
• Site A: Charles Street, including the library, the city parking lot, the accounting office at 360 Charles, Main Street Computers (the old post office), and Robert Hampton’s home at the corner of Charles and Third. Captain Nemo’s was to be a part of this site, but the owner does not wish to sell it.
• Site B: Main Street, including the library, city parking lot, historic Dr. Robb buildings holding Keith Bruder’s office, Dr. Boelter’s dental office, and Ibrahim Jawad’s buildings at 397 Main that now house the cleaners and hydroponics businesses.
• Site C: Baptist Church, including the library and city parking lot. The church and all its properties there have been priced at $2.5 million, so the church has enough to buy property to build a new building and move. It is on the lake, across High Street from Horizon Park.
• Site D: The vacant DNR property and the house next door and 1.86 acres at 11933 Belleville Road, owned by Jerry Lee and Charlotte Spencer, which would be leveled.
Development: $1,317,760 *
*The library board said it believes $235,000 of fishing access may be all or partially provided for with grant funding. The DNR gave the library a list of possible grants, but some of the grants are for Saginaw and other areas.
In a letter from the DNR on Sept. 9, it was announced the land exchange review committee has approved the request for state-owned land located in VBT and Wayne County, with the following conditions:
1. Library will develop fishing access and associated trail improvements as part of the overall improvement;
2. Library will maintain fishing access improvements in concert with the library facilities;
3. The fishing access must result in one third of the water frontage being “fishable” by the general public;
4. DNR will assist with plans, plan review, and approval;
5. Library encouraged to seek grants from a long list presented;
6. Library gives easement to the DNR covering the shoreline fishing.
The DNR said it will wait for the outcome of the library’s bond issue vote and when the funding is assured will pass the proposed land transaction on to the proper body for final approval.
In an application signed by Dawson on July 24, she said the board would buy the two acres of Spencer property (which now is stated as $595,000) and combine it with the three acres of DNR property to make 1,400 feet of shoreline which would be made available to the MDNR by easement or lease for public access and urban fishing location.
Dawson also said the library had verbal indication from Wayne County that a traffic light could be located at the end of Quirk Road as an entrance to the site.
She also said separate restroom facilities would be built for the fishing area. And, she said it is believed any engineering or utility hookups “can be overcome.”
During the questions part of the public forum, Philip Miller, who holds a degree in municipal finance, questioned the architect’s estimate of $55,000 for utility hookups at the DNR site since a lift station is needed and those would run more. Another member of the audience suggested $250,000.
“Some of these numbers are already suspect,” he said of the DNR site acquisition numbers that rose that night by $95,000 and another $10,000.
Architect Whisler said that $55,000 was just an engineer’s estimate based on the information available.
In Dawson’s application letter to the DNR, she said there was a potential that amenities to the site would be funded by both the VBT and the City of Belleville Downtown Development Authorities. She referred to pedestrian pathways to the new library.
When asked about the legality of the city DDA spending money out of its district, attorney Day said he was told that when two DDA districts adjoin each other they can join together on one project.
“That has not been fully investigated yet,” Day added.
The announced benefits of choosing the DNR/Spencer site included “positive response from Van Buren’s representatives” with Cichewicz noting the response from city representatives has been slow.
Barbara Miller asked if the board sent an option letter to the Chase bank next to the church in the city and Day said he was told a couple of years ago that it was not for sale.
Miller pointed out that the library board has been meeting in closed session for years and has just released information a few days before voting on a decision.
“You haven’t shared with us… You’re giving us less than a week to digest the information. Don’t forget, you are building the library for us,” Miller said.
When Dawson said that people can look at the information on the library website, Kit Dewyer of Sumpter Township, replied, “Less than 10% of my seniors have internet to look at your website. If I told my seniors to look at the website, they are going to say, ‘What’s a website?’ I’m not trying to be unkind but that is true … I think this is a sinking ship.”
Miller said, “If you want our support, you have to give us time to discuss this.”
Philip Miller said he belonged to the Government Finance Officers Association and they know operational costs are the most important. He said how much to capitalize is what they’re deciding tonight, but the site operational costs are the most important. He said the library has “in perpetuity responsibility for fishing.”
He asked if there was some reason costs are not included that evening?
Architect Whisler said they only had cost estimates, but the library has been working on not only what they’ll likely need to build, but the additional tax dollars they’ll need to operate a library. He said the operational costs vary between one site to the next.
Philip Miller noted that the board seemed to be so narrowly focused on the DNR site but didn’t have an engineer looking at it.
“You have to pay for an engineer,” attorney Day said.
“We’re paying for him (pointing to the architect). We’re paying for you,” Miller said to attorney Day, insinuating an engineer could be sitting with them giving better information.
By Rosemary K. Otzman