Traverse City Record-Eagle

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October 12, 2013

Resident sues City of Traverse City over Bijou deal

TRAVERSE CITY — A former mayor filed suit in an effort to force a citywide vote on how city’s parkland is used.

Traverse City’s deal with the Traverse City Film Festival to develop the former Con Foster Museum into a movie theater prompted the parkland use lawsuit, as did a previous deal the city struck with the Michigan Department of Transportation over parkland on Division Street.

Attorney Grant Parsons and his client, Fred Nelson, allege city commissioners used extra-legal means to evade a city charter provision that requires a 3/5 vote of residents to dispose of city parkland.

Parsons alleges commissioners violated the charter by giving the Film Festival an exclusive right to manage the Con Foster building at Clinch Park for 10 years. He wants a circuit court judge to order a public vote.

He also wants a judge to rule that the city can’t give parkland to MDOT to improve Division Street because a 2012 vote fell just short of the required 60 percent.

“The city government is just not playing by the rules,” Parsons said. “These parks are dedicated and were given special protection and that special protection is being eroded and Clinch Park is at the crux of it. Everybody wants a piece of Clinch Park.”

City Attorney Lauren Trible-Laucht said she hasn’t received a copy of the lawsuit and declined comment.

Deb Lake, executive director of the Film Festival, also declined to comment until she receives a copy of the lawsuit.

Parsons and Nelson are both Film Festival boosters. Their effort doesn’t aim to hurt the Film Festival; instead they said they took the step to force city officials to follow to a required process.

“I can’t even imagine the Film Festival losing that vote,” Parsons said.

The city commission agreed in April to a proposal from Film Festival officials to enter into a 10-year management agreement to operate the vacant Con Foster building as a movie theater. The Film Festival wanted to fast-track the $1 million renovation to open in time for its summer festival. Commissioners left details of construction and the agreement up to city staffers.

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