Attorney: Parks commission has control of Huyser House

The township board asked its lawyer to settle dispute over responsibility for the structure.
A sign on a door at the Huyser House, 4188 64th St. in Laketown Township, tells people to stay out of the unoccupied structure.

The home of the couple who donated 102 acres for a park in Laketown Township has been put back in the hands of a commission whose members have said they want the 84-year-old structure torn down.

Laketown Township Attorney Ron Bultje told the township board on Wednesday, Nov. 1, that the township parks commission retains authority and control over the Huyser House at Huyser Farm Park, 4188 64th St.

“Legal responsibility rests with the parks commission,” he said. “It’s the parks commission’s call.”

Long history

The township board on Oct. 11 asked the attorney to determine who has ultimate control of the unoccupied home – the board, the building authority or the parks commission.

The confusion stretches over more than 20 years of inaction around the 1939 home built by Manuel and Lilah Huyser. It has been empty and falling into disrepair since the home along with 102 acres of land were donated to the township for a park in 2001 after the Huysers passed away.

Past parks commissions recommended the house be preserved. The most recent parks master plan in 2018 showed the house as part of the overall park design.

The parks commission decided on March 15 to hand over the home to the building authority and told the group to have a plan for the building by Sept. 15. If the deadline was not met, the house would have been recommended for demolition.

Living Legacy Center

The building authority met the deadline, drawing up a plan to renovate the home into a Living Legacy Center for multiple uses such as a parks office, history site or gallery.

The parks commission, though, was unhappy with the building authority’s plan and in September sent a letter to the township board stating, “we are not in favor of continuing with this project.”

Last month, the township board responded to the parks commission letter by freezing all spending on the house and asking the township attorney to determine who had authority over the structure.

Though the parks commission has control over the house, the township board controls funding for whatever the parks group decides to do, whether renovate or demolish, Bultje said.

He advised the parks commission to make any future decisions about the house in “deliberate and specific” motions or resolutions. Several members of the parks commission were in the audience at the Nov. 1 meeting.

Some parks commission members have stated they want the house torn down because it is in poor condition and any repair work would be costly.

The building authority estimated repairs around $125,000.

The next parks commission meeting is 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 15, at the township hall, 4338 Beeline Road.

The Huyser House at Huyser Farm Park, 4188 64th St., in Laketown Township.

Conservation easement

Bultje also said the conservation easement with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan does not prohibit the demolition of the house.

The Land Conservancy holds a perpetual easement on the property to keep the area in a natural, scenic and agricultural state to protect natural habitats of fish, wildlife, plants and the ecosystems that support them. Any changes to the land must follow the terms of the easement.

The Land Conservancy approved the plan to make the house a legacy center to tell the story of Laketown’s past of agriculture on smaller farms, highlight architecture from the post-Depression era, offer a place to display historical artifacts, provide a place for a community garden, and open up volunteer opportunities.