Traverse City commissioners were right to put off for at least a couple weeks a decision on whether to allow the Traverse City Film Festival to erect a marquee for the Bijou by the Bay movie theater at the old Con Foster Museum at Clinch Park.
The delay will give the city attorney time to answer a critical question — whether putting up the free-standing sign would be a “taking” of city parkland — but will also buy the city time for residents to weigh in on the issue.
The park question is critical. The city charter is unequivocal on the issue: you can’t give away city parkland without a vote of the people. And while putting up a marquee or sign isn’t the same as deeding away the land, letting it be used that way could legally be the same thing and set a precedent the city would surely regret.
Commissioners appeared ready Monday night to approve the marquee until local attorney Grant Parsons raised the parkland question. (Perhaps the city attorney could also explain why her office didn’t raise the “takings” issue first.)
“Let’s take a deep breath and put it on hold for a couple of weeks and let the public weigh in,” commissioner Mike Gillman said. That’s good advice.
The Film Festival has addressed concerns about prior designs and is ready to go. Lights on the marquee won’t flash and it will have a muted appearance on the front with white glass and movable letters on each side. The sign will only be lit when the theater is open. That’s much better than an earlier request that included flashing lights.
The city long ago decided to allow the Film Festival to revamp the Con Foster for use as a movie house and the festival has poured $1 million into its renovation. The sign is the last sticking point, but given that it will be what the public sees, it’s a crucial question.
If the city attorney says letting the sign go up would be a taking, a citywide vote would be next. But that’s for another day.