Park board recommends city reject Mary Crapo lease option

SWARTZ CREEK — The Swartz Creek Parks and Recreation Advisory Board has rejected an offer to lease a portion of the Mary Crapo site.

Communities First Inc., which has an option to buy the former school property from the Swartz Creek Community Schools, offered to lease the southern 2.8 acres to the city on the condition that the baseball diamond remain intact.

The park board, however, wants the city to determine how it will use the land, especially since it involves use of public funds.

“I was reading through the lease and it sounds like they want to lease it to the city for $1 and we’d be responsible for everything else – taxes, insurance, upkeep – and we’d have to get everything OK’d by them (Communities First),” said Park Board member and Councilwoman Rae Lynn Hicks. “It doesn’t sound like a very good deal. That is totally out of the realm of normalcy. It doesn’t sound like a good idea for us to do, especially since they can tell us what to do and we have to pay for it. It’s bizarre.”

Board member Mark Gonyea said he, too, would like “the leniency to make it into a park if we want, plant trees, a garden, whatever.”

Park board Chairman Jim Barclay said city residents already pay taxes that help the schools pay for athletics.

“In no way do I want to pay taxes for school sports on top of what I’m already paying,” he said. “And I don’t feel that we should take it over at all if it has to be a ballfield that we have to maintain for school athletics. The schools already have money for that.”

As a condition of the purchase agreement with the school district, Communities First must maintain the ballfield or pay the district $70,000 to build a new field on school property.

“Communities First is obligated to maintain the ballfield or give the district $70,000,” City Manager Adam Zettel said. “I feel like the ballfield is there to stay, it’s just a matter of who is going to maintain it, Communities First or the city.”

Not everyone on the park board was in agreement.

Board member and Councilman Jentery Farmer said he believes the residents who spoke up at public forums last winter want the field to remain in the neighborhood.

“I’ve gone on a lot of walks recently and I’ve seen it being used,” Farmer said.

He asked that the park board postpone their decision and reach out to school officials to see if the district would take the lease.

Currently, the city’s priorities for the park system are the construction of a disc golf course on Bristol Road and the trail extension at Elms Park. The city also has committed to maintaining and repairing or replacing aging equipment and facilities at existing park properties.

Several city officials have expressed willingness to lease the Mary Crapo property if it can be done with minimal financial liability. That could mean removing the ballfield and maintaining the land as a green space for passive recreation.

The City Council will have the final say on whether to enter into the lease.