The lease of a portion of Jean Klock Park (not including the Lake Michigan waterfront) to the nonprofit entity Harbor Shores Community Redevelopment Inc. for three holes of a public golf course has been one of the most publicly scrutinized projects in the history of Michigan. It has passed every test.
Following several public hearings and extensive opportunity for public comment, the Benton Harbor City Commission, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Michigan Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Michigan Historical Commission, the Michigan Attorney General, the United States National Park Service, and the Army Corps of Engineers all approved the project, which also had the support of then-Governor Jennifer Granholm.
Despite overwhelming public support for the project, in July 2008 two disgruntled citizens filed a complaint in the Berrien County Circuit Court seeking to enjoin certain park improvements and the construction of the three golf holes, and to invalidate the lease, as volatile of restrictive covenants contained in the gift deed the Park. Following a lengthy hearing, the Berrien County Circuit Court rejected the plaintiffs’ claims and denied their request for injunctive relief. In its decision, the court noted that Harbor Shores had agreed to contribute funds to improve and maintain all of Jean Klock Park, most of which would not be used for golf course purposes, and that a city-controlled golf course oversight panel would oversee operation of the golf course and ensure that local residents received golf rate discounts. The Circuit Court also noted that the issues involved in the case had been debated through many public forums, including at city commission meetings, and ultimately the City of Benton Harbor’s elected officials had approved the project. The plaintiffs then appealed the Berrien County Circuit Court decision to the Michigan Court of Appeals, which affirmed the circuit court’s decision, concluding that there was no merit to the plaintiffs’ claim that the use of a portion of Jean Klock Park as part of a public golf course violated the restrictions imposed on the Park by Mr. and Mrs. Klock. Thereafter, the plaintiffs further appealed the Michigan Court of Appeals’ decision to the Michigan Supreme Court. The Michigan Supreme Court requested and received numerous briefs from the parties and other interested persons and, following a hearing, denied the plaintiffs’ request for leave to appeal the decision of the court of appeals, thus ending the matter.
A second case, filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. on behalf of a handful of local residents, asserts that the now-completed park improvements and golf holes are violative of federal law and regulations and that the United States National Park Service and Army Corps of Engineers improperly approved these park improvements and golf holes. The Washington, D.C., federal judge assigned to the case declined to issue a restraining order, since she found that the plaintiffs’ claims were unlikely to succeed. The case was then transferred to the Federal District Court for the Western District of Michigan. That court carefully reviewed each of the plaintiffs’ numerous claims and, in a lengthy opinion, explained their lack of merit. The court then dismissed some of the plaintiffs’ claims and granted judgment in favor of Harbor Shores as to the others. The plaintiffs have appealed this decision to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and this case presently resides there.