An open letter to the Lake Orion Village Council on active engagement with community stakeholders

The vision you strive to embody, as stated on the village’s website, includes a commitment to cherish the local culture. You say you strive to “encourage innovation and continuous improvement promoted by the diversity of [your] citizens.”

If you pay only lip service to the concept of diversity, then you need not do more than utter this empty sentence. If you, however, seek to benefit from that diversity, you must give life to it.

Part of the diversity in this village is provided by the presence of affordable rental units like the Verwood. We, the residents of the Verwood, call this village our home. Each night we rest our heads in the very heart of this village and daily we traverse its streets – when you allow us to, that is.

We are fortunate to have found housing that is affordable, of great quality, and accompanied by certain benefits, among them the culture of this small community, the local businesses, restaurants and retailers. And yes, our parking.

In your erosion of our unfettered access to our home, you have offended greatly and without concern the Verwood residents at the heart of this village. In past years we could enjoy the frequent festivities hosted by the village while also retaining the freedom of movement into and out of our home. However, events this summer have not provided access as open as that of the past.

At the beginning of the summer, one village event allowed Verwood residents to display a “parking pass” in our vehicle to permit us to cross the barricades erected at Anderson and Front streets and Front and Broadway. This was slightly inconvenient, but in light of your more recent plans for us, it was certainly accommodating. However, even this experience was cause for confrontation.

When I returned from a 10-hour shift at work, I moved the barricade to proceed down Front Street toward the Verwood. Several village police officers were casually chatting with a member of the public on the sidewalk by Lucky’s. I drove quite slowly towards the second barricade when one officer approached my vehicle, angrily. I rolled my window down, displaying the pass that should have easily granted me access to my home. The officer’s response was an aggressive, “You moved my barricade, what do you think you’re doing?” I told him I was trying to go home and again presented my pass to him. He said, “What’s that?” and repeated, “Why’d you move my barricade?” I calmly repeated that I live in the Verwood and was trying to go home. It was only when a second officer approached and informed the first officer that I was trying to go to the Verwood that I was allowed to proceed.

Now, these officers were on patrol to ensure the orderliness and safety of the festival and were undoubtedly friendly with patrons of the festival. Do I, a resident of the heart of this village 365 days a year, not deserve friendliness and respect?

We have brought these issues to your attention and you have proposed, clumsily, several possible solutions while simultaneously asserting that the Orion Art Center’s proposal requiring a larger footprint during this year’s festivities is to blame. Your attempt to place the responsibility for overlooking the Verwood residents onto the shoulders of the Art Center is shameful. Is it not your votes that ultimately determine what will and will not happen in this village? While we appreciate the fumbling attempts to rectify the situation, I must point out that solutions to problems anticipated through early due diligence are more easily implemented than solutions hastily cobbled together in a rapidly shrinking time frame.

You assert, per the village’s website, that the mission of this village is to “create and maintain an outstanding quality of life” for the citizens here. You prattle on about “open, transparent, and responsive local governance,” and your commitment to providing high quality municipal services while “actively engaging [the] citizens, businesses, and civic organizations in the community decision making process.”

Where was this active engagement? Are we, the Verwood residents, simply a cost outweighed by the benefits of attracting visitors to our village? Surely, we are always welcome to attend public meetings, but a standing invitation is passive engagement. We are core stakeholders in every event that occurs on Broadway St. You must – if you truly aspire to be what you say you are – seek out and value our opinion on such matters, not cross your fingers hoping we will not speak out. Are we but a few inconsequential tenants, not worthy of your consideration because we do not own the land on which we live? You will no doubt say that you have consulted, and will continue to consult, the new owners of the Verwood, which is all you are required to do. But these owners are absentee landlords. We are the residents to whom you have made the commitment to provide “outstanding quality of life.”

And yet still, we are adults. We can accept outcomes that we may not prefer. We do not begrudge the Village for its attempts to grow, nor for the various events held here. What we resent is the presumption that we will simply fall in line without consideration. We resent the cumulative disrespect represented by your inattention, the increasing encroachment on year-long tenants for the benefit of visitors, and the insults of developers who disparage the Verwood and its residents for having the gall to fulfill their civic duty to challenge local government to be better for all its constituents.

This time next year, there will be more residents in the heart of this village. They will reside in the new building at 120 S. Broadway Street that has replaced the serene views of the lake for Verwood residents. Will these residents be treated as the Verwood residents are? Or will their ability to pay top dollar for these new luxury apartments make them more worthy of the village’s attention and less worthy of new developers’ scorn?

Jamison Knudsen

Lake Orion