The Laketown Township Parks and Recreation Commission wants to halt plans to turn an 84-year-old house into a legacy center and parks office and is appealing to the township board to stop what one member called “a waste of time and energy.”
The unexpected twist in this highly charged issue comes after the Land Conservancy of West Michigan said the proposal for the Huyser House, 4188 64th St., is an acceptable use on the 102-acre parkland.
Laketown Township has owned Huyser Farm Park with the house since 2001. The Huyser House has been vacant the entire time. The parks commission never decided what to do with the house.
In March, the parks commission voted to pass responsibility of the house to the township Building Authority, giving the three-member authority six months to come up with a plan for the building. If no plan was developed, the home would be recommended for demolition.
The authority met the deadline and developed “The Huyser House Restoration Plan for Adaptive Use” that proposed making the 1,559-square-foot home a Living Legacy Center, a building for multiple uses such as a parks office, history site or gallery – at a cost of about $125,000.
The house would not be brought up to standards to be a modern residence but would be modified to be usable.
The parks commission received a copy of the restoration plan at its Sept. 20 meeting. No action was required, but members were upset by the report.
Commissioner Karen Simmons wanted to know who would pay for the restoration.
Funding for the project has not been established. The Building Authority doesn’t have a budget and would need to ask the township board for money for repairs.
“I think this Living Legacy Center is a waste of time and energy,” Simmons said. “I personally don’t see a purpose.”
Parks Commissioner Dick Becker said nine out of 10 people in the township don’t want to restore the house.
Commission Chairperson Jeremy Van Hoven said there was no benefit to spending money on the house.
“I like to look at things in ‘big picture’ and return of investment,” Van Hoven said. He was asked for comment and referred to an earlier email sent to Township Manager Al Meshkin and Tom Shuff, then parks commission chairperson.
“Pouring funds into a home that serves no purpose is not in our best interest,” he said in that email. “We would be best suited to take any funds that we would invest into that home and divert them to fixing up the grounds and the blueberry bushes.”
The plan acknowledges that the Huyser House will never be financially profitable.
“The return on investment as a historic home will not be a financial one; it will be an intrinsic one,” the report states, noting it will tell the history of the township, help create community, provide office space for the parks department, provide a display space and a place for a community garden.
“It won’t make money, but it will make memories,” the report said.
The parks commission unanimously voted to send a letter to the township board saying they are “not in favor of continuing with the project.”
It’s unclear what the township board will do with the letter.
Meshkin, who is also a Building Authority member, was surprised by the Parks Commission vote.
“Parks has had control over the Huyser House for the last 20 years and they couldn’t get off square one with it. They are the reason it was allowed to deteriorate. They handed it over to the Building Authority in March with the task of developing a plan. Jeremy even made the motion saying he wanted it out of the hands of the parks commission. And now they want to try to exert some control over it?”
In March, both Van Hoven and Becker supported the motion to send responsibility for the Huyser House to the Building Authority, essentially removing the parks commission from any authority over the house.
In that March vote, Simmons and Commissioner Anne Brand voted against giving the house’s future to the Building Authority.
Current Commissioner Brad Laninga was not yet on the board in March.
The Living Legacy Center plan recently passed a significant hurdle after the Land Conservancy of West Michigan said the proposed uses fit in with the 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 township building inspector reported in March that the foundation and frame of the home are in excellent condition, but any repairs need to be started in the next 12 months.
Cleanup around the house has been ongoing this summer. Security cameras and wi-fi are planned for the site.