TRAVERSE CITY — Fern and Doug Spence gambled $48,000 to discover resentment still runs deep from a bitter, six-year-old lawsuit that pitted neighbors, developers and city officials against each other.
The Spences signed a purchase agreement for a lot on Wayne Street that has been used as an old farm trail and more recently as a shortcut to Hickory Meadows Park and the Willow Hill School. They want to created a dedicated, non-motorized trail across the property, but they need the city to remove a deed restriction banning the creation of a pedestrian trail over a portion of the property.
Fern Spence said she was encouraged when Mayor Michael Estes said in April he saw no reason for the city commission not to consider creation of a pedestrian trail across the property.
"Doug and I went ahead and bought it because we held onto the promise of Mayor Estes that the city commission would consider it," Fern Spence said. "But the city won't even consider it."
The Spence's proposal never made it past city staff. City Attorney Lauren Trible-Laucht told commissioners the trail has "no benefit" for the city and would invite litigation. Trible-Laught said she had already been visited by an attorney for the neighbors who indicated any action by the city regarding the parcel would invite another lawsuit.
"My neighbors and I believe the trail would be very disruptive to the homeowners whose yards adjoin that lot," said neighbor Mary T. Joseph, who leads opposition to the trail. "It would be disruptive to our privacy."
The controversy dates as far back as 2005 when the city planner granted a permit to Incochee Woods developers Bob Brick and Ted Lockwood to build an access road at 1430 Wayne St. The then-new, high-end housing development sprouted on a farm in Garfield Township with access through Wayne and Ramsdell streets, as well as from M-72.