Challenge organizer starts his own petition of support
By Jim Newell
A proposed triathlon in downtown Lake Orion is heading back to the Lake Orion Village Council on Monday for another public hearing and consideration after councilmembers decided not to take action on the event during the May 28 meeting.
But the Lake Orion Challenge has faced opposition from forty downtown businesses and eight residents who signed a petition asking the council not to approve the event’s permit.
The councilmembers chose not to support a resolution, made by Councilmember Ray Hammond, to approve the Lake Orion Challenge permit application, instead siding with their business owners who objected to more public street and parking lot closures.
Joan Sheridan, owner of Heritage Spinning & Weaving, said the village already has 21 days of events that close streets and/or parking lots, and that Fridays and Saturdays are the businesses’ busiest days.
“For many businesses, street closures seriously, seriously impact the amount of business traffic,” Sheridan told councilmembers. “If your employer took away five percent of your income, how would you feel? It hurts.”
Lloyd and Kathy Coe of Ed’s Broadway Gift & Costume said they and other business owners objected to closing parking lots and streets, especially during the fourth quarter of the year, and their objections were not against Palaian and his event.
The Coe’s, who started the petition, also said the whole incident could have been avoided with better communication.
The Lake Orion Challenge, scheduled for Oct. 5, is a triathlon with kayaking, canoeing or paddle boarding on Lake Orion at Green’s Park. Participants – limited to 250 people – would then cross M-24 near AutoZone and ride bikes through the village and Paint Creek Trail and run through village streets. A race map is available at lakeorionchallenge.com.
The day after the meeting, Aaron Palaian, owner of Onurmark Productions, the race company behind the Lake Orion Challenge, began circulating his own petition online asking for community support for the proposed triathlon, a for-profit event.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the petition, posted on change.org and linked on the Lake Orion Challenge Facebook Lake Orion Challenge pages, had 213 signatures.
A post in The Lake Orion Chat Room – critical of the business owners – has since been removed.
Palaian, an Orion Township resident, has held more than 100 endurance races across the country and overseas.
The original Lake Orion Challenge proposal submitted to the village had asked to close the municipal parking lot next to Children’s Park from Friday through Saturday, close sections of Anderson and Shadbolt streets, the municipal lot behind Lockhart’s BBQ off Shadbolt and Green’s Park.
The closures would have begun as early as 1 p.m. Friday and continued through 6 p.m. on Saturday, according to a public notice from the village.
That’s when business owners objected and began circulating petitions to block the event.
Palaian said he was surprised that the village council chose not to even take a vote on the permit, especially after he had redone his plans that day to address any concerns.
“I was blind-sided by that (lack of a vote). I really thought they would look at it and say, ‘Here are the facts’ and be more reasonable,” Palaian said.
After the meeting, Palaian took to social media to start a petition supporting the Lake Orion Challenge.
“The petition is not to trash anyone, but to show the council that there are people out there who want to come into Lake Orion,” Palaian said.
Palaian’s petition does read, in part: “a petition against the event was submitted by local businesses. The petition was an overall statement on traffic flow and public parking during all events within the village. While a legitimate concern, it was unfortunate we were targeted with this petition as even our plan at that time closed minimal parking lots and only one small section of road. We were generalized with all events when we should have been evaluated separately by the council and given a fair vote.”
For their part, the business owners say they handled it appropriately, getting a petition, signatures and taking it directly to the village council for consideration. They did not, several pointed out, take to social media to criticize Palaian or the Lake Orion Challenge.
Palaian has since redone his application and plans, which now call for no street closures. The lot next to the Art Center (19 parking spots) will be closed, as will the municipal lot next to Lockhart’s BBQ and The Lake Orion Review lot, a private lot with shared public parking on the nights and weekends.
“I’ve never done one event where we had no street closures before,” Palaian said. “I’m thinking that the sidewalks should work fine. Between crossing guards and (police) officers, it should be safe.”
Palaian then to took to the streets, speaking to several downtown business owners face-to-face on Thursday, Palaian said he is more confident that he can get the event approved with little opposition.
“Once I told them the new plans and that there wouldn’t be any street or parking lot closures, I felt like a lot of them started to come around,” Palaian said, adding he hopes they get to see the benefits of the race he’s proposing. “I hope that those businesses look at it and say, ‘Wow, that was less impact and more fun than other events’ and are even more supportive of it in the future.”
Palaian said he feels the draw of the Lake Orion Challenge will bring people to the community and benefit businesses overall.
All sides point to a lack of communication, with the business owners saying the DDA and village should have informed them of the event and the proposed street and parking lot closures that could affect their businesses.
Councilmember Doug Hobbs, who has been on the council for more than a decade, said he had always believed that the business district would be notified of events that affect them and wants to make sure that that’s done so in the future.
“I didn’t know I had to go and speak to the business owners or else I would have,” Palaian said. “I’ve run into obstacles before, but it’s usually government, not businesses. I think the business owners had just had enough.”
The petition from the business owners’ states: “We are also requesting detailed written notices mailed or delivered to our businesses before our DDA submits their request to the village council for an event that requires village street and/or parking lot closures to an already full event schedule.”
There is a public hearing on the Lake Orion Challenge scheduled for 7:30 p.m. June 10 during the Lake Orion Village Council meeting at Village Hall, 21 E. Church St.