Too cheap? Controversy over land deal in Wayland

wayland 133rd avenue parcel for sale sign 051017_335430

WAYLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — After a plot of land in Wayland sat unused for nearly 20 years, a pair of area natives picked it up on a very good deal — too good, some say.

The developers bought the 25-acre parcel at 1121 133rd Ave. for less than 5 percent of its estimated value.

The city bought the area south of downtown in 1998 and has since sold off a number of parcels, some of which became an industrial park. But the city couldn’t offload the whole thing. The real estate sale contract with NAI Wisinski realty expired more than a year ago, but the for-sale sign remains.

The land has been listed for as much as $50,000-plus per acre. Allegan County estimated the plot’s value at more than half a million dollars.

Now, the land is being sold to Josh Otto, a Dorr Township trustee, firefighter and owner of the Wayland Hotel, which is known for its giant burgers; and his partner Keith Nickels, a Wayland native who works for a New York City accounting firm and owns the Dollar General store in town.

They paid $20,000 for the whole 25-acre plot.

“Correct, $20,000 for 25 acres, which equates out to $800 per acre,” said Ben Frigmanski, who owns F & A Reno, a grocery and wholesale broker, adjacent to the land in question.

The sale was approved unanimously by the Wayland City Council on April 17.

“I said, ‘No, no, no, that’s got to be a misprint. There’s no way they would sell it for that kind of money,’” Robert Genther, owner of nearby Woodhams Equipment, recalled.

Frigmanski looked into buying the land a couple years ago and was quoted a price of $52,500.

He worries a change in zoning could impact his parcel and the cheap price could lower his property value. He doesn’t blame the developers, but says the city should be held responsible.

“The city should do the right thing and either list the property or take it to auction or go through a cost/benefit analysis with these two developers and make sure they’re doing right by the citizens of Wayland,” Frigmanski said.

“How in the world can you sell 25 acres for $20,000 and construe that to be fair market value or even anything close to it?” Genther said. “As a taxpayer, I can’t stand to see them sell this land for $20,000. That’s not right when the land could be potentially worth a half-million or more dollars. That’s money the city could use to pave the streets.”

He said his taxes are based on a valuation of more than $50,000 per acre.

Genther was a city council member in the 1980s and says this is not how the city should do business.

“I mean the deal smells, it really does. There’s something amiss here,” he said.

The other property owners said the city should have done something like put the property out for bid or had a public hearing about the sale.

On Wednesday, City Manager Timothy McLean declined an on-camera interview, but said the city had the property listed and tried to make deals in the past that would have sold it for as little as $1 per acre if development was guaranteed. But for nearly two decades, nothing happened.

Within the last six months, a carpenters’ union bought a 20-acre plot just up the street for more than $35,000 per acre to put in a $10 million to $12 million training facility. Another buyer paid $10,000 per acre a little further away within the last year. The Gun Lake Casino trust is also buying pieces of property.

Genther said industrial property in Wayland averages $10,000 to $15,000 per acre.

Otto, the developer, said he and his partner have been looking at property in Wayland for some time, so he went to the city and asked what it would take for the parcel on 133rd.

“They explained it would be in the 20 range. Fair enough,” Otto said.

He said he understands why people are unhappy with his deal.

“I don’t want to say sour grapes. It’s just a missed opportunity. I mean, it’s been for sale for 18 years,” he said.

He said everything about the purchase was above board.

“I think they’re mad at the city and think the city just hid something,” Otto said. “They didn’t hide anything, they hid nothing, it was open. It was on the agenda as an item for the whole month of April.”

He said he and his partner are planning for the future and want to be part of it. He would not specify the exact nature of the development will be – at least not yet — but said it will come in phases and won’t disappoint.

“We’re here for the long run, here for the long run,” Otto said. “It’s going to be a gem. It’s going to be exciting, they’re going to love it, people are going to love it and it’s a need, it’s a definite need.”

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