DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – Detroit residents are demanding that a west side megachurch clean up an unmaintained golf course it owns.
Community members say the Greater Grace Temple is contributing to blight in the area by not mowing the grass at New Rogell Golf Course, on 7 Mile and Lahser roads. More than 60 people protested outside the grounds last Sunday.READ MORE: Highland Park Shooting Suspect Bobby Crimo III Charged With 7 Counts Of First-Degree Murder
“It’s just let go. Some of the weeds are six, seven feet high,” Mary Price, with the Greater Sand Hill Community Group, told WWJ’s Stephanie Davis.
Greater Grace Temple owns the golf course, which they’ve been trying to sell for more than a year. The sale has been on hold since last spring, when the city’s zoning board turned down a request to re-zone the property to be used as a cemetery. A final hearing on the matter is scheduled on Sept. 16th.
A statement from the church said the bishop has met with community block club leaders on at least four occasions to discuss their financial position and inability to cut grass at the former Rogell property.
“We have committed to cut the perimeter grass, but inside the course we cannot afford the $15,000 per cut,” the statement said. “The 120 acres within the fence is beyond our financial ability due to the economic decline which we are experiencing as a non-profit organization. Thus, we have closed the property and secured it from any public access.”
Price, whose home faces the high grass on the 18th hole, said she understands the church’s financial troubles, but feels it’s not an excuse to just stop cutting the grass.
“He still owns the property. The zoning has not been changed,” she said. “It is his responsibility and the churches responsibility to maintain that property.”
Price said she loves her community but feels its on the decline, especially with the addition of the now-blighted golf course.READ MORE: Recession Concerns Loom, Financial Experts Say Don't Make Emotional Decisions
“It’s comfortable, it’s pleasant and we just feel that this is just one more threat to the stability of our corner of Detroit,” she said.
Detroit City Councilman James Tate said he can see the situation from both points of view.
“I empathize with those who own the property, with the church that owns the property, and I believe the figure is $1.8 million that is still owed, so I understand how challenging that may be as well but also, looking at it from the prism as a resident, I would hate to look and have to see that everyday across the street from my home,” Tate said. “But I think this is going on for far too long. When you look at the property, it is in poor disrepair.”
In turning down the church’s request to sell the 120-acre, 18-hole golf course to the Detroit Memorial Park Association, the zoning board said converting the recreational land into a burial ground wouldn’t be in the city’s best interest.
Rogell became one of six African-American owned golf courses in the nation when the church bought it from Detroit for $2.5 million in 2007. The church closed the golf course in May 2013, saying the operation had never been profitable. Bishop Charles Ellis III said they had been spending up to $100,000 annually just to keep the course open.
“Our hope is that the Zoning Board will approve the appeal so that the new owners can move forward in beautifying and maintaining the property as a memorial park. Unfortunately, golfing at this property is a thing of the past,” the church said.
Prior to being shut down, the golf course was one of the city’s oldest links. It was founded in 1914 by philanthropist Max Fisher and other prominent business leaders. The 6,000-member church held the funeral of Rosa Parks.
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