Planning commission: snowshoe property shouldn't be sold
BESSEMER - Bessemer's Planning Commission has recommended that city council shouldn't sell the 7.1 acres of public land near Steiger's Field to private citizens, and instead make it a part of Bluff Valley Park.
Commissioners Bill Steiger and Ron Zaleski were absent from the meeting held Wednesday afternoon, though Steiger said in an email he opposed the sale.
Zaleski and his wife, Marlene, a city council member, requested buying about 4.6 acres of city-owned land north of West Iron Street, and between Massie Avenue and State Street.
Luke Peterson requested to purchase the remainder.
John McCarthy has been a Bessemer city resident for most of his life. He attended the meeting and told commissioners he's been using the property for more than 50 years for access to trails and viewing the natural wildlife.
"The amount of cash that would go into the Bessemer city treasury is negligible compared to what this land is worth to our residents," he said. "The needs of our city definitely outweigh the needs of a few individuals."
Marlene Zaleski attended the meeting and said the city would get revenue if it sold the land, but is getting no taxes from the property as it is.
"You're getting nothing," she said, adding there is a trail to the south of the city residents could use.
"We built this trail for three years; we worked on it," she said. "It goes all the way to Anvil Road, and you see beautiful bridges, railroad bridges. Why aren't they using this?"
Both Peterson and the Zaleskis already own property adjacent to the acreage they were hoping to buy.
Peterson told commissioners on Wednesday he only intended to purchase up to Silver Street.
"That's originally what I was going to ask for, but the city manager told me the whole parcel was for sale," Peterson said. "Well, of course you're going to want a bigger chunk."
The majority of land had not been zoned for any specific use.
Peterson also told commissioners he would rescind his proposal and make a new request to purchase the property up to Silver Street.
Commissioner Linda Nelson, who also sits on the city council, said she received numerous phone calls from city residents advising to not sell the property.
"We have a community who's using this property, we have a school who's using this property, and I think it would not be very nice of us to take this property away from a school and a community using it right now," she said.
The intention of the Zaleskis was to reforest the land, which Nelson said she didn't think was a good enough reason for the city to sell.
Commissioner Ron Jacobson also opposed the sale because of how the land was to be used.
"I don't see any benefit on selling it for what it's being planned for," he said. "Now, that being said, and knowing what it's being used for now, I would think it makes more sense to make it part of the parks system and set up some trails for walking and stuff like that."
Residents have stated publicly and told city officials the land is frequently used for snowshoeing in the winter.
John Turkal, commission chair, said he initially didn't have a problem with selling the property, believing it could be developed and would ultimately benefit the community. However, he changed his mind after hearing from residents.
"I really did appreciate that very much," he said. "Because if people didn't care, they wouldn't take time to call you up, send you a letter or stop by your house and talk for a while. That gives you an idea of what's going on. We're not talking zoning now, we're talking planning. We're trying to do what the actual population wants."
Turkal said the city should have developed the area years ago.
"I really think the community has been wrong in the past not to establish year-round trails throughout the system. Not just in the wintertime-for the people who snowshoe, or the people who use cross country skiing-this really is a year-round facility that has not been used correctly."
The city council has the final say on what happens with the property. The council's next meeting is Aug. 18 at 5 p.m. in city hall.