Land use
5:36 pm
Thu January 20, 2011

MI Supreme Court to hear dispute over Benton Harbor golf course

Attorneys will make their case before Michigan’s Supreme Court Friday over a disputed Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course in Benton Harbor. The course opened last summer.

Nearly a century ago, the Jean Klock Park was donated to the city of Benton Harbor for public recreation. The city leased part of the 90-acre park to non-profit developer Harbor Shores Community Redevelop Corporation, who used land including sand dunes along the Lake Michigan shoreline for 3 holes of an 18 hole golf course.

John Cameron represents the developers.

“We’re not focusing here on three golf holes, we’re focusing here on the entirety of a park and what its being used for, all the different uses; picnicking, hiking, kite-flying, volleyball, concerts, triathlons, and golf.”

Michigan’s Court of Appeals agreed with Cameron that designating part of it as a golf course is not against the restrictions. It also ruled that the city is allowed to lease the land.

Scott Howard is an attorney for two residents bringing the appeal. Howard says since residents now have to pay to gain access to that land, the city is violating the terms under which the land was given to it.

“We believe that by leasing the park out to this private entity for up to 105 years the city is no longer using the park for its residents. It’s allowing the Harbor Shores to use it for the folks who want to pay $125 - $150 per round for golf. When you start to put up barriers like charging rate to play golf, we think that’s pretty clearly contrary to the donors’ intention.”

Cameron notes the golf course takes up only a portion of the park, which has a number of other public uses. He also argues that the park is used by the public more now than it was before the development.

“Prior to the improvement to the park that were done by Harbor Shores at great expense, nobody used that park. You could down there on any summer day and you might see two or three people. If you go down there on a summer day today, you’ll see hundreds of people using the park.”

Michigan’s Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Friday, but a decision isn’t expected for a few months.