From a possible deer cull to waterfront development and recreational marijuana, among a slew of other topics, the two City Commission candidates running to represent Muskegon’s fourth ward, Teresa Emory and Jack Page, are almost entirely in agreement when it comes to issues facing their neighborhoods and city.
“People have asked me what’s the difference between Jack and I; I say he’s a man and I’m a woman,” Emory said during a “Meet the Candidates” night at the McGraft Park Community Building on Wednesday, Oct. 16. “We’re equally-minded, equally-hearted.”
Emory and Page will appear on the Tuesday, Nov. 5 election ballot after winning first and second place in an August primary that resulted in the defeat of incumbent Ward IV Commissioner Byron Turnquist and another challenger, Jeffrey Musselman. Emory received 351 votes, or 29 percent of the ballots cast; Page landed 294 votes, or 24 percent, in the primary.
Muskegon’s fourth ward covers the western portion of the city of Muskegon, including all of the Beachwood-Bluffton, Lakeside and Campbell Field neighborhoods, as well as parts of the Glenside and Marsh Field neighborhoods.
The current vice president of the Lakeside Neighborhood Association, Emory grew up in East Muskegon, has lived in the Lakeside neighborhood for 40-plus years, and is the former owner of Liberty Tax Service and Confidential Investigative Agency. Additionally, she previously worked for the Child and Family Services of Michigan as a residential treatment teacher. She too has long been involved with advocating for the Lakeside business community.
A lifelong Muskegon resident who’s currently the executive chef at Michigan’s Adventure, Page grew up in the McLaughlin and Nelson neighborhoods and currently resides in Bluffton. He has coached luge for about three decades at the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex and previously served as the executive chef at Smash Wine Bar & Bistro in downtown Muskegon. He served on the city of Muskegon’s Income Tax Board of Review from 2007 to 2009 and has received endorsements from Muskegon’s Progressive Democratic Women’s Caucus and the West Michigan Cannabis Guild for this race.
About 50 people gathered for this week’s meet the candidates event, which was sponsored by the Glenside Neighborhood Association, the Lakeside Neighborhood Association, and the Beachwood/Bluffton Neighborhood Association. It was emceed by the Muskegon Channel’s Andy O’Riley.
During the event, audience members submitted questions for the candidates, which covered everything from a possible RV campground at Pere Marquette Beach and The Docks development to short-term rental properties and more. Of all the issues discussed, the only topic that the two candidates seemed to differ on was the possibility of paid parking at city beaches, such as Pere Marquette. (Emory said she was against it; Page said he was for it but noted there could be provisions allowing residents to bypass having to pay for parking and stipulating that it be relegated to out-of-town drivers.)
Should there be a campground at Pere Marquette Beach?
Both candidates disagreed with the idea of a campground at Pere Marquette. A number of plans for campgrounds at Pere Marquette have surfaced over the years, with the most recent one being this past winter—when the city said it was exploring two proposals for RV campgrounds in the area known as “the ovals,” which refers to the land inside the circular route of Beach Street and Pere Marquette Park.
“Absolutely not,” Emory said in response to the question of whether there should be a campground at the beach. “To leave all that natural beauty out there as it is, as nature put it there, as God put it there, it sets us apart from Grand Haven. Our sunsets and beach are stunning. When I go to Grand Haven, it’s not the same.”
Page said he’s “been opposed to an RV campground since it’s been brought forth to the city at least three different times now.”
“One of the issues I want to address if I’m elected is the development of any public lands,” he continued. “We have to be careful with Pere Marquette, Fisherman’s Landing, etc. etc…If there’s going to be any development in any of our public parks, that need to come to a vote before the people.”
The future of Windward Pointe
A vast 120-acre property situated on more than a mile of Muskegon Lake shoreline, the Sappi redevelopment site, otherwise known as Windward Pointe, is slated to be a $250 million to $400 million mixed-use development that’s expected to be one of the biggest projects to shape the region. A group of local business leaders formed the group Pure Muskegon to purchase the property in 2016 and have since been preparing it for redevelopment. They have not yet sold it; this past summer, Pure Muskegon said there were two interested parties exploring purchasing the expansive property that once housed the Chase Hackley Piano Factory, the Central Paper Mill, and, ultimately, the Sappi Fine Paper Mill.
“Would I like to see it developed by the individuals who’ve already purchased it?” Page asked. “Yes I would because they’re the ones who are local and have skin in the game.”
Emory said she’d “certainly love to see something beautiful developed there” that would be mixed-use and include public access to the waterfront.
“I’m certainly glad the industry is gone from it,” Emory continued. “For the first time in 100 years, we get to reinvent that part of our lakefront, and I’m so looking forward to something going on there. I still applaud the men and women of Pure Muskegon for taking on that task.”
The Docks Development
Both candidates said they have been opposed to The Docks development, an estimated $100 million, 240-home development near Muskegon Lake and Lake Michigan. The City Commission approved the development in June.
Located on an 83-acre parcel in the Beachwood/Bluffton neighborhood—a space previously known as Pigeon Hill—the project is being led by Damfino Development and MiCoast Properties. The two groups are entities of the property’s owner, Sand Products Corp.
“I don’t like it,” Emory said. “I understand it’s private property; we can’t stop it from happening, but maybe we can curb it to a point.”
Page has previously noted that his father’s foundation, the Pigeon Hill Alliance, attempted to purchase the Bluffton school property—now part of The Docks development—that the Muskegon Public Schools ultimately sold to Sand Products Corp. for $490,000.
“It’s no surprise I haven’t been a fan of the development from the beginning,” Page said.
With the approval from the city, Page said it’s now up to government officials and other community leaders to keep a close eye on the development—and to see what can be done to alleviate problems that residents anticipate with the project, such as traffic congestion or flooding.
“Now, it’s our job to see where we can curb things and what can be amended to fit in the neighborhood,” Page continued. “…They should look at tying the traffic into the new traffic circle; that would alleviate traffic concerns of everyone turning right into the Bluffton neighborhood.”
City officials are currently reviewing the possibility of a cull to curb the deer population in the Beachwood-Bluffton neighborhood. Between 60 and 70 percent of 450 Beachwood-Bluffton residents surveyed by the city in April reported they supported some kind of action to reduce their neighborhood’s herd, which includes about 100 deer. The city said most of the complaints residents reported to officials center around damage to landscaping.
City officials have discussed the possibility of contracting with a wildlife management agency to come in and hunt the deer at night over the time span of about three days.
The City Commission has yet to vote on a formal plan for the deer.
“As much as we like to watch the deer, they’re unbalancing our ecosystem out there,” Page said. “There are many other forms of animals and plant life being run out of the dunes area by overpopulation of the deer.”
Emory said she finds “it very hard to say, ‘OK, kill them.’”
“But as my neighbors at Beachwood and Bluffton are experiencing this, I’m here to listen to you and your needs, and if that’s what you need to have done, then that’s what needs to be done,” Emory continued. “We’ve gotta do something about the deer.”
Both candidates cited concerns regarding the financial cost of the cull. According to information from the state Department of Natural Resources, the contracted company that would hunt the deer would charge about $300 to $500 per deer—resulting in a final price tag of $40,000 to $50,000 for the city.
“The cost is very high,” Emory said. “I’m hoping they can talk to Norton Shores being part of this cull because, as we all know, most of those deer come from them anyway.”
Both candidates said they supported short-term vacation rental homes—such as those offered through Airbnb.
“I have 15 to 20 short-term rentals within an eighth of a mile of my house; I hardly have any problems with them,” Page said. “The people who come in are here to enjoy our city.”
“I don’t have any short-term rentals around my neighborhood; maybe one or two by the country club,” she said. “From a business aspect of it, I’m for private enterprise. As long as they’re kept up, and the noise level is kept down, then we’re OK.”
Both candidates said they appreciated the visitors’ perspectives on Muskegon.
“I do enjoy talking to those people who come out to the beach; I like to see our city through their eyes,” Emory said. “If you’ve had a bad day and you’re thinking our city is going to pot, go out there and talk to those visitors that are here. See the city through their eyes; it’s refreshing. It gives you hope and promise that we are going in the right direction.”
Top priorities for Muskegon’s neighborhoods
When asked what their top priorities are for the city’s neighborhoods, Page said he hopes to focus on empowering all of the neighborhoods instead of solely focusing on downtown and the west end. He also focused on protection of public spaces and job training.
While the downtown and west end neighborhoods “are on a good roll,” Page said he doesn’t “see a lot of the other neighborhoods sharing the benefits of Muskegon’s resurgence.”
“You talk about Muskegon’s resurgence with someone from the Angell neighborhood, and they’ll look at you like, ‘What has it done for me?’” Page said. “In the downtown and west end, we’re trying to hold development off, whereas a lot of these places in the core city haven’t seen new development in 50, 60, 70 years.”
When it comes to the protection of public spaces, Page said, “if you want to develop anything that’s a public area, I think a vote of the people of the city of Muskegon needs to happen.”
Continued and expanded support for job training is essential in Muskegon, Page added.
“We need to look at continuing job training because we’re having difficulty having people ready for the market when they come out of high school,” he said.
Emory focused on safety and economic development.
“Safety has always been one of my biggest concerns,” she said. “Keeping us crime free has gotta be number one.”
She added that she’s “very excited about our Lakeshore Drive that will hopefully open two ways soon because that will build our businesses and Lakeside district.”
Should there be paid parking at the beach?
When asked if drivers should have to pay for a parking spot at Muskegon beaches, Emory was mostly opposed to the idea.
“I understand why we need the revenue from it, but I don’t like it,” she said. “Hopefully if we can get enough revenue coming in from other places, we can keep it free.”
Meanwhile, Page said he has advocated for paid parking at Pere Marquette for about a decade. Page said he’d like to see free parking continue for residents, but for there to be paid parking for out-of-town vehicles. The funds generated from parking could then be used to fund various needs in core neighborhoods, he emphasized.
“I think the revenue is needed,” he said. “I don’t want to be the person to kill the last free beach on Lake Michigan, but I can’t in good conscience say I want to keep the beach free, but these police officers can’t have their jobs anymore [because the city couldn’t afford them].”
What should city government do better?
The city needs to improve the way it’s addressing gun violence in the community, Page said.
“I think we’ve got a real issue with guns,” he said. “Every summer we see an uptick in crime. It’s a continuing gun issue. I know that’s a larger issue than just Muskegon.”
To address gun violence, Page said he’d like the city to “worker harder to find” opportunities for youth, such as employment.
“If you’re not willing to support education, you better be ready to build more jails,” he said.
Emory said city government needs to “listen to the people better.”
“Our commission needs to listen to the citizens of the city of Muskegon,” she said.
Both candidates agreed that the city should consider curbing tax abatements for developers now that the city has generated continued interest in area development.
When asked what can be done about problems with city streets, Emory said, “Pave them. Fix them.”
“We have side streets that are horrible,” she continued. “I sure hope once we get a little more money in our coffers we can do something about that.”
After voters rejected the past two paving millages in Muskegon, Page said the city will eventually need to return with another request for funding for city streets.
“I think we turned them down because people felt there wasn’t a lot of transparency in them,” Page said of the failed millages.
The city will need to come up with money for the streets because “I don’t think the state will provide anywhere near the millions we need,” he continued.
What are the most important issues facing Muskegon’s development?
Noting the major upcoming decisions regarding plans for the former Sappi property (now Windward Pointe) and the B.C. Cobb site, Page said waterfront development is one of the biggest issues facing Muskegon.
“Those are going to affect our waterfront for two to three generations to come,” Page said, referring to the Sappi and Cobb sites.
Page too said he finds “it difficult to support a lot of additional development on Pere Marquette Park because people are already telling me it’s the best beach around.”
While he added he would not mind seeing something like the Western Market (the small chalets on Western Avenue in downtown Muskegon) at Pere Marquette, Page would not want to see larger development at the site.
“We need to be very careful with how we treat our waterfront,” he said.
Emory too emphasized waterfront development as being a major issue and noted she’d like to see incoming developments provide public access to the waterfront.
“We’d like public access, so hopefully there’s a balance there,” she said.
Medical and recreational marijuana
Emory and Page are staunch supporters of medical and recreational marijuana—which are both now legal in Michigan. In Muskegon, the City Commission earlier this month approved an ordinance allowing recreational businesses to operate in the city. The commissioners also approved an amendment allowing recreational marijuana shops and grow operations in Muskegon’s medical marijuana overlay district.
City legislators backed the district last year as an attempt to breathe new life into vacant industrial buildings located south of Laketon Avenue. The overlay district includes the area located between Seaway Drive and Park Street on the west and east and Hackley Avenue and Young Avenue on the south and north.
Muskegon County’s first medical marijuana business, the Park Place Provisionary, opened this past summer in the district.
“My mother had cancer a few years ago, and the only thing that helped her” was medical marijuana, Emory said. “It did better than the morphine she was on.”
Page said he would like to do away with the marijuana district and instead see marijuana be regulated like alcohol.
“I see the zone the city has created as a first necessary baby step, but it still says, ‘Oh, you’re one of those people; you go over there,’ and I have a huge problem with that,” Page said. “If you can go into Wesco and buy liquor, you should be able to go into Wesco and buy pre-rolls.”
Should he be elected, Page said he’d work to expand where marijuana businesses are permitted to operate in the city.
“I’d like to see the zone dealt away with and [marijuana] be licensed and regulated just like alcohol,” Page said. “If your shop meets code in that commercial district, you should be able to put your business in that place.”
Emory agreed that she “wouldn’t mind seeing it spread,” referring to the marijuana industry in Muskegon.
“I think the recreational [marijuana] will eventually spread to other parts of the city,” she said.