A three-year court battle over the city of Benton Harbor's decision to lease a portion of Jean Klock Park for three holes of the course with views of the lake appears to have come to an end.
The Michigan Supreme Court on Saturday released an order stating it had turned down an appeal by some Benton Harbor residents opposed to the city's agreement to lease the land. The court heard arguments in January but declined to take the case, saying it's “not persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed.”
The plaintiffs in Carol Drake and Clellen Bury v. the city of Benton Harbor and Harbor Shores Community Redevelopment Inc. previously had suffered losses in the Berrien County Circuit Court and later in the Michigan Appeals Court.
Wendy Dant Chesser, a Harbor Shores trustee and president of Cornerstone Alliance Inc., said the court's decision was important for the community. She said when golfing legend Jack Nicklaus was designing the club in 2007, he made mention that a course so close to a large body of water without views of it would be the equivalent of Pebble Beach Golf Course being a half mile inland from the Pacific Ocean.
Holes seven, eight and nine of the Golf Club at Harbor Shores can see out to Lake Michigan.
“We're pretty excited this cloud had been removed,” she said.
“I would say that knowing the suit was there has created a distraction for what the project was set out to do. This gives us re-energized focus on developing.”
The battle was over whether leasing 22 acres of Jean Klock Park violated the 1917 Klock deed and a 2004 consent judgment injunction against further privatization or conversion of the park.
Chesser said she believes the course stays in line with the Klock family's wishes.
“Public improvements were made,” she said. “It has made a wonderful family venue again by putting the parking closer to the beach, and we've upgraded the lookout (pavilion).”
Traverse City-based attorney Scott Howard, who represents the plaintiffs, said last month if the Michigan Supreme Court did not take up the appeal it would be “the end of case.” Howard was unavailable for comment Monday.
The recent decision, however, was not unanimous. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Markman, who called the deal a “breach of faith” with the Klock family, disagreed with the rest of the court and wanted to hear a full appeal.
“Although the city prevails today, it, and other communities throughout our state, may well come out losers tomorrow as later generations of philanthropists look at the legacy of J.N. and Carrie Klock and come to question the faithfulness of government in upholding their intentions after they too have passed,” Markman said.
A plaintiff, Clellen Bury, said the court's decision is a “big disappointment.”
All 18 holes opened for play last summer. Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Johnny Miller and Tom Watson all helped christen the course at its August grand opening.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Staff writer Tom Moor: