SCHOOLCRAFT TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Kalamazoo County may take control of a privately owned cottage in the middle of a Vicksburg-area park under eminent domain, a judge ruled.
“Because the County has met its burden of proving that the proposed taking of Defendants’ property will be used for a public purpose, the Court holds that the taking is appropriate and within the County’s eminent domain authority,” Judge Curtis Bell wrote in an Aug. 4 decision.
Bell said the property would be absorbed into and complete Prairie View Park, a public use allowed under eminent domain.
“The importance of Prairie View Park to endure as a public entity exists now, not tomorrow,” he continued. “As the County’s Parks Director testified, he knows of no private interests that are found in, and completely surrounded by, a public park. This makes this property unique and non-conforming to the use of the parks by the general public.”
The lakefront cottage in question sits on a third of an acre surrounded by the park. The county has been fighting with the owners, the Johnson and Talanda families, for years to gain control of it. The families say a legal agreement dating back to the 1960s means they should be able to keep it. The county disagrees, saying the deal expired when the original owner died.
In a statement released to News 8 Tuesday, a spokesperson said Kalamazoo County empathizes with the families and understands their emotional connection to the cottage. However, the statement continued, the county’s “intentions have always been rooted in serving the greater public interest and maintaining a safe and enjoyable experience for all park visitors.”
“The Court’s ruling aligns with our perspective in upholding the integrity of Prairie View Park and reinforces the careful consideration that has gone into this matter,” the statement says in part. “It was the culmination of a thorough examination of the legal, safety, and liability aspects associated with the presence of the private property located within a public park.”
The Johnson and Talanda families are entitled to compensation for the property, according to the ruling. In 2022, the county voted to pay $310,000. The Aug. 4 order says the families are entitled to a trial at which a jury would decide how much they are due.
The county said it is waiting to see whether the families will appeal Bell’s ruling.
“Recognizing the potential significance of that decision, we believe it’s essential to grant them the thoughtful consideration they deserve before transitioning toward future action,” the statement concludes.
News 8 reached out to the attorneys representing the families but have yet to hear back as of Tuesday afternoon.
— News 8’s David Horak contributed to this report.