OSCODA – Members of the Oscoda Board of Trustees and the Economic Improvement Committee are in agreement that Furtaw Field cannot be ruled out as a future development.
The two agencies met on Thursday to discuss the lack of housing in Oscoda, as well as the procedures for selling township-owned property. But the meeting also became about the future of Furtaw Field after an apparent listing of the property on the EIC website was circulated on Facebook last week.
Residents were confused as to why the public green space was listed as “for sale, price negotiable” when it was never discussed in a board meeting. The EIC website was later taken down, and Oscoda Township Supervisor Ann Richards confirmed that a formal listing not been approved by the Oscoda Township Board.
Thursday’s joint meeting started off with a presentation from Shannon Morgan and Jill Ferrari of Detroit-based Renovare Development, two consultants who specialize in mixed-use downtown development. Morgan and Ferrari stressed that Oscoda is already in need of at least 200 extra housing units, and if the spaceport comes to the area, it will only exacerbate the problem.
“Where are those people going to move?” Morgan said. “Right now they’re going to be living in other communities.”
Ferrari and Morgan said if Renovare helps the township bring in a new housing project, it’s vital that it be located in Oscoda’s downtown district, within walking distance of local shops and township amenities such as the Beach Park. Certain state programs that provide tax credits or funding options for municipalities also require specific metrics such as walkability.
“This is not something we could do at the base, that’s a totally different project,” Ferrari said.
One of Renovare’s recommendations for Oscoda Township is to have a clear set of procedures when an offer is made on township-owned property, something Superintendent Michaell Mitchell has been asking for in recent weeks as the township negotiates the sale of the Huron Shores Artisan Hall.
Mitchell suggested creating a list of criteria to ask potential buyers to submit when they want to make an offer, such as the proposed use, method of financing and timeline for development. Board members and EIC Director Todd Dickerson agreed they should keep the parameters basic, to avoid overcomplicating the process and scaring buyers away.
“We don’t want to make the offer process so restrictive that nobody can meet that expectation,” Dickerson. “I think where the board should get to is, what are the minimum items you need to know when you’re submitting an LOI (letter of interest) or a purchase agreement?”
Dickerson also shared a list of available properties the township owns, which were color-coded by which ones are for sale, which ones are not disposable and others that have yet to be decided on — such as Furtaw Field.
“There’s three orange ones and those are not really listed for sale but they’re certainly an intriguing option for someone to come in and want to develop, and that is Furtaw Field, the Lake Street beach site, and 3100 Perimeter Road, that’s the sports complex out there,” Dickerson said.
Dickerson said the board members should go through and update the list to create a labeled map to show the different properties, since the list was created in 2017 by previous EIC members. But Treasurer Jaimie McGuire suggested they get Furtaw Field sorted out ahead of that process.
“Everybody knows that this has been a contentious one and different things have been happening and I think the committee and the board and Todd need to have direction and move forward with this once and for all, for Furtaw,” McGuire said. “We definitely can’t make a decision now but I would like to hear some of the board member’s and committee’s thoughts on Furtaw Field.”
Trustee Jeremy Spencer went first and said his feelings on Furtaw Field have changed since he was elected onto the board and he learned more about the lack of housing in Oscoda.
“The developers that are willing to put development into this area are only going to be able to put it in specific spots, and unfortunately Furtaw Field is one of those areas that we need to develop,” Spencer said. “It needs to be done one way or another, and I would like to see us move forward and get some stuff developed out there, and I think the best service for the community at this time is going to be putting an apartment complex out there.”
Trustee Steven Wusterbarth said he was open to hearing different proposals on Furtaw Field and getting public input on them before making any decisions.
“I guess in my opinion, if it checks the boxes for the best in the community, I’m open to looking at the possibilities and then let’s bring it into a public meeting so everybody can address it then, when there’s something real on paper,” Wusterbarth said.
Trustee Bill Palmer said the controversial listing of Furtaw Field was to generate interest in Oscoda Township, which he feels is important.
“It’s sort of the carrot that you dangle out there to get interested parties to come into the township to look at what we have and to see what those properties are, and I think that’s valuable to have on that website that was originally up, where developers and businesses are going to be looking at Oscoda Township, and some of the prime properties we have should be listed on there,” Palmer said.
But Supervisor Ann Richards said she felt the township could’ve handled the advertisement of Furtaw Field differently in order to encourage transparency with Oscoda residents.
“I apologize to the community for the misconception that we had it listed for sale, quote-unquote. I think that we could have done a better job with that,” she said. “Public dialogue, transparency, all those things are very important and that’s what needs to drive this community, in my opinion.”
Palmer added that he was in agreement with Morgan and Ferrari of Renovare Development, in that the township needs to bring residents into the downtown area before the empty storefronts are once again filled with thriving businesses.
Richards said she wasn’t sold one way or another, and said that there have been plans for Furtaw Field in the past to create a more developed recreational area that the township would maintain ownership of. EIC member Mark Wygant said he was just in favor of developing a plan for Furtaw Field instead of leaving it an empty field.
“I think the question turns into, what do we want to develop it into? Whether it’s a municipal park, or whether private industry develops into housing, but the experts whose advice we rely on and pay for are all in agreement that leaving it there vacant doesn’t seem like a good idea,” Wygant said.
McGuire and Trustee Tim Cummings both said they were open to looking at different possibilities and taking it to the public. Clerk Joshua Sutton did not provide his input on the subject. The board and committee ended the discussion by agreeing to update the list of available properties.
Oscoda resident Brian Haley was the only person to speak during public comment following the three-hour meeting. He said he was discussing some ideas for Furtaw Field with other residents on Facebook when someone shared the listing, and he was in disbelief.
He said the EIC members should have gotten board approval before posting it, and that the township would lose credibility if a developer tried to buy it, only to find out it’s not for sale. Haley said the board needs to listen to the residents first and foremost.
“People have spoken on Furtaw. Now if we need to speak again, fine,” he said. “It’s time to go on the offensive for the people and I think you know what that means.”