By Jim Newell
LAKE ORION – The village’s parking problems continue to manifest, this time in regard to the Dragon on the Lake festival and plans to deny residents of the Verwood Apartments access to their parking lot for two days.
Residents are also angry over comments a local developer has made about where they live.
A contingent of residents took their concerns to the Lake Orion Village Council on Monday, opposed to any attempt to force them to park somewhere other than their “home.”
The issue arose after plans for Dragon on the Lake called for expanding the footprint of the festival south of Front Street down toward M-24. Residents were only notified this month, after the festival application had been approved.
In previous years, the festival had stopped at the north side of Front Street, allowing Verwood tenants access to their gated parking community, which is on the west side of Broadway Street at Front Street. There are 18 apartments in the Verwood, 54 S. Broadway St., with designated spots for each tenant.
Residents were informed they could park at the Ehman Center, Lake Orion Community Schools Administration Building or Blanche Sims Elementary anytime during the weekend, beginning Friday through Sunday, and then at Caruso Chiropractic beginning after 1:30 p.m. Saturday through the end of the festival.
“It’s been getting more and more invasive every year for residents who live on that street,” Verwood resident Shawn Vanneste told the council. “You are encroaching more and more on the people who live in that area. We pay to live here and park here.”
“I appreciate your insight,” council President Ken Van Portfliet said. “We have an events committee looking into, how we can best serve the residents and businesses owners downtown when we have events.”
Van Portfliet, who was an advocate of creating the events committee, is also a member of the committee.
All of the Verwood residents who spoke said they support the Art Center and Dragon on the Lake, but feel the Art Center’s expanded festival footprint shouldn’t interfere with their right to park their vehicles in spaces they pay for by being residents of the apartment building.
When Verwood residents asked if the village could still change the plans to extend the festival south of Front Street on Broadway, they were told the festival footprint had already been decided.
“The application has been made and approved,” said council President Ken Van Portfliet.
Orion Art Center Executive Director Karin Starick and Alana Hart, a member of the Art Center’s board of directors, did attend the meeting but did not address the council on the issues.
Starick, however, has made attempts to find alternative parking for Verwood residents, including arrange parking at Caruso’s.
“We take issues like this very seriously and we take safety as our number one priority, and would never want anyone who attends, or works, the festival to get hurt if we were to allow any vehicles, other than emergency vehicles, to drive through a secured area where there are pedestrians,” Starick said. “We are always available to discuss and resolve situations like this on a personal level before they are posted on social media that can have a negative effect on how people perceive us.”
After a post from Verwood resident Andrea Peterson in the Lake Orion Chatroom informing the community of the situation and asking for their support, the Art Center also arranged with Jeffrey Schmitz, owner of the four-story building under construction at 120 S. Broadway St., for Verwood residents to use his parking lot near their own complex.
That proposal has rankled the Verwood residents, who took exception to disparaging comments Schmitz made online about the Verwood.
In response to Peterson, Schmitz wrote in the Lake Orion Chat Room: “Are you seriously kidding me!!!! This freaking event has gone on for 10 years you knew this when you freaking rented in that dumpy sh**ty apartment building!!! Go move somewhere else then don’t stir this s**t up for everyone else!!!!”
“I don’t think that’s a very professional attitude for a businessman who wants to be part of the Lake Orion community to take,” said Peterson, adding that Schmitz’s comments were “rude and obnoxious.”
Still, the Verwood residents want access to their parking lot, just as anyone would want access to their own driveway, they said.
Verwood resident Jamison Knudsen points out that village’s stated mission on its website is “actively engaging its citizens, businesses, and civic organizations in the community decision making process.”
“But what we experience consistently is only a passive engagement in the sense that we’re always welcome to attend public meetings,” Knudsen said. “But if they want to actively engage with their citizens of all economic classes, not just people who can afford the highest property values in the village, they need to reach out to us when they know that something is going to affect us. And if they don’t know that it’s going to affect us, then they need to do a better job of planning and consideration of all the people.”
Vanneste said special events plans shouldn’t trump the needs, and rights, of the residents.
“No, they should be discussed. I think that the tenants have as much say as the Art Center or whoever else is petitioning to use the village (streets),” Vanneste said.
The events approval process is that anyone who wishes to hold an event in the village submits their application to the village, including street and parking lot closures. The village council then votes to approve, amend or deny the application.
In May, 40 business owners signed a petiton opposing closing downtown streets and parking lots for the Lake Orion Challenge Triathlon in October, and the village’s lack of communication with the business district.
The village then formed the events committee during its June 24 meeting to tackle the ever-growing number of events, races, parades, festivals and car shows occurring in downtown Lake Orion – and the process for approving special events.
The village council, however, approved the Orion Art Center’s event application during a special meeting July 25. At that time, the events committee had not yet met. Members to the committee were approved during the July 22 council meeting.
“We talk about communication, but where was the communication before Aug. 1?” said Debbie Parson, noting Verwood residents weren’t notified until after the approval process.
All of the Verwood residents at the meeting that needs to change.
“I think they need to have a meeting with the residents, or tenants, even though the Art Center developed the plan, the council approved it without any consideration of the people who are downtown,” said Peterson.
“What I expect is for the government to be responsive of the concerns raised by the residents and allow us parking during the festival by reaching out to us and finding a solution,” said Knudsen. “The larger picture, though, is that they need to consider all of the stakeholders beforehand, so that we can participate in the deliberative process to find ways to make all events in Lake Orion work for the benefit of the village and the people that visit and for the people that live here.”
During the council meeting, Van Portfliet said there are plans to begin demolition of a portion of the Verwood’s covered parking and the private gated area on Aug. 19. He suggested that if the work was finished by the start of the festival four days later, the residents could use Lapeer Street/Front Street as an ingress and egress.
“Many, many good comments. And we’ll take them all into consideration,” Van Portfliet said.