KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners is one step closer to condemning a cottage that has been the center of a legal battle for nearly five years.
The cottage, which is owned by the Johnson and Talanda families, is currently surrounded by the more than 200-acre county-owned property that makes up Prairie View Park in Vicksburg. The Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday night to move forward with condemning the property but not because it’s in bad shape.
In an 8-3 vote, the commission also voted to pay the family $310,000 for the lakefront property.
The family says they’ve owned the third of an acre plot of land the cottage currently sits on since the 1940s. At that time there were a handful of adjacent privately owned plots in the area.
The homeowners say when the county built a park around the subdivision in the 60s, it attempted to condemn and absorb the cottage property. While other owners sold, the Johnson and Talanda families say they made a legal agreement with the county and kept their cottage.
During Tuesday night’s meeting, the county and the cottage owners shared two different interpretations of the legally binding 1963 contract. The family said the property was always intended to be passed down to the next generation. The county says the document indicated that when the original owners died, which happened a few years ago, the county would have the opportunity to purchase the land for a fair value.
In 2017, the county started inquiring again about buying the property, homeowners say. They say they had been in litigation about it ever since debating the interpretation of the contract and its enforceability.
The family says the county has not only offered subpar compensation for the land but it also has not provided a legitimate reason to absorb the property, in their opinion.
The owners of the cottage say the property is priceless to them.
“We’re not in it for the money,” Jayne Engels, one of the cottage owners said. “We can give and take. We can negotiate. But just an offer? We’re not into that. You don’t need this place. We do. This is our family’s.”
The first three hours of the meeting Tuesday night was public comment. The overwhelming majority asked commissioners to allow the homeowners to keep their cottage. There was also a handful of people speaking in favor of the family cottage being condemned.
David Rachowicz with the county’s Parks and Recreation Department also spoke at the meeting, saying the plan is to return the plot of land to its natural state and that they have a responsibly to limit risk in the area.
“This agreement is nearly sixty years old, and the County has upheld its responsibility as outlined in the agreement. We must preserve our public parks and ensure every resident and visitor has access to them throughout those years,” Board Chair Mike Quinn said in a statement after the meeting. “We also understand the importance of family, so the decision doesn’t come without strain. This was a no-win situation, but we had to err on the side of the larger community that will benefit from the purchase and the Park’s natural visitors and residents.”
The cottage owners say despite the vote, they will continue to fight.
There are a few more steps before the county will be able to condemn the property.