Detroit zoning board blocks plan for proposed cemetery on golf course site
Detroit – – The city’s zoning board on Tuesday denied an appeal by a group that purchased the former Rogell Golf Course on Detroit’s far west side with plans to turn it into a cemetery.
The board, in a 7-0 vote, decided not to reverse an earlier decision that would have paved the way for the Detroit Memorial Park Association to construct a cemetery. Two members abstained.
Attorney Rick Juckniess, who represents the Detroit Memorial Park Association, said the group is expected to appeal after it reviews the written denial. Juckniess said the board erred when it decided the land is intended for recreational use and could not be used for a cemetery.
Juckniess disagrees, saying site is now vacant and open. That means it qualifies to be used as a cemetery, he said.
“I am surprised the zoning board seemed uncertain as to what to address and refused to engage in respect to the legal requirements,” Juckniess said. “The principal reason for the denial is under the master plan this is designated as recreational land, but none of them could answer the question where that appears in the law.”
Tuesday’s decision is the latest step in the controversial deal at the golf course site on Seven Mile near Berg. The Board of Zoning Appeals heard testimony for more than six hours on the land request.
More than a dozen community members argued their neighborhood will be harmed if the cemetery plan was approved.
“I bought my house on a golf course. I do not want to live on a cemetery,” said Amanda Rossman, who lives near what’s now the former 13th hole of the course.
“It’s just really that simple to me.”
Earlier this year, the city’s Buildings, Safety Engineering & Environmental Department denied the request, saying converting 117 acres of recreational property “would not be in the best interest of the city.” Among the concerns were diminishing property values and increasing traffic.
In 2013, the Detroit Memorial Park Association struck a deal with Greater Grace Temple to purchase 120 acres at the golf course site.
The facility on the city's far northwest side has been closed since May 2013. The purchase is contingent on having the zoning request approved.
The group was seeking a special land use permit to turn the grounds into a cemetery built in seven phases. All burial sites were to be located east of Berg Road. The area is zoned as residential.
City Clerk Janice Winfrey appeared before the board, not in her official capacity but as a member of the church. She called for the panel to approve the petition.
“The fact is the church owns the property, we have a buyer (and) we can no longer support the property,” Winfrey said. “I say let’s move forward. I say if we have someone who can afford it and is willing to purchase it, let’s do it so that we do not have to walk by and live in blight daily.”
Built in 1914, Rogell became the first African-American-owned golf course in the state and one of six in the country when Greater Grace bought it in 2007 for $2.5 million.