City Approves New Golf Course

May 7, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Grand Rapids City Commission has given the go-ahead for development of a 195-acre public golf course near the intersection of Covell Avenue and O’Brien Street SW.

Developer Dan Shimmel expects to begin seeding the 18-hole course, called Mines Golf Course, this fall and open it in mid- to late-summer 2005.

Shimmel also said the developers feel the site’s close proximity to downtown will attract tourist and convention business because it would be the closest public course to the downtown area.

A portion of the development is located in Walker. Walker approved the plan March 17, said Walker Assistant City Manager Darrel Schmalzel.

At two earlier Grand Rapids Planning Commission hearings on the project, opponents cited traffic issues as their primary concern, particularly the intersection of Lake Michigan Drive and Covell Avenue.

The city has asked MDOT to consider redesigning the intersection prior to the scheduled reconstruction of Lake Michigan Drive this summer.

Public Works Director Patrick Bush told commissioners all the traffic from the development could be mitigated very easily with traffic calming and neighborhood traffic management.

First Ward Commissioner James Jendrasiak said he was confident the traffic issues would be resolved, but that he was concerned about the geological stability of the land and the potential for sinkhole formation.

Underlying the site is a network of old gypsum mines that have filled with water.

A mine study prepared by Williams & Works 19 months ago, when the county was considering the site for expansion of the John Ball Zoological Garden, concluded that there were varying degrees of stability on the site and that a large part of the area is stable for the short term, or approximately 50 years or less.

It was recommended that no permanent structures be built on the site.

Jendrasiak said that while there may not be an immediate threat, the study indicates that water moving through the gypsum pillars supporting the site could dissolve the pillars over time.

He asked whether, by the legislative act of approving the development, the city would hold any liability.

City Attorney Philip Balkema said he hadn’t seen the study, but that he’s heard enough comments at both public hearings and from city commissioners and staff to know that reasonable engineers can differ as to whether or not the underlying mines posed any kind of an immediate threat to public safety.

The people who will be constructing the golf course are in the business of constructing golf courses and know what’s involved, he said. It will be Shimmel’s responsibility to deal with any safety issues, he indicated.

“I don’t think they’re going to put their name and fortune on the line for something they don’t think will be reasonably prudent. Given that, and the fact that this is a legislative act by the city of Grand Rapids, there would be no liability on your part,” Balkema responded.

Shimmel told the Planning Commission in February that there would be a temporary building on the site initially to provide basic golf pro services. He said he would eventually like to incorporate a clubhouse of 5,000 to 6,000 square feet.           

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