The Hon. Alexander C. Lipsey of 9th Judicial Circuit Court in Kalamazoo ruled on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019, that Kalamazoo County was in violation of the Open Meetings Act in regard to the family property within Prairie View County Park owned by the Talanda and Johnson families.
“The county is found to be in violation of the Open Meetings Act and the Resolution for Condemnation has been vacated,” said Randall Levine, attorney for the Johnson family. “The county has been ordered to place the matter on an open agenda for public comment. This is a great win for the families as they deserve to have the right to be heard.
Two Kalamazoo families taking legal action against Kalamazoo County in an effort to preserve their family cottage within Prairie View County Park have been denied due process, according to Randall Levine, managing partner of Levine & Levine Attorneys At Law who represents one of the families.
The Talanda family has owned the property along Gourdneck Lake in Schoolcraft Township since 1949 — 14 years prior to the opening of the county park, which now surrounds the property on the south, east, and west. The property and the five-room cottage is now owned by two separate families, the Talanda and the Johnson families, both heirs of the original owners.
On Friday, Oct. 11, the two families filed joint lawsuits in Kalamazoo County Circuit Court “to prohibit the county from an unconstitutional taking of property,” according to an MLive/The Kalamazoo Gazette story. The families also accuse the county of violating the open meetings act in its move to condemn the land. A condemnation would allow the county to assert control over the property, and allow the cottage and its land to be used by the general public.
When the county park was created in 1963, members of both families signed an agreement with the county, stating, in part, that the county would be offered first right to purchase if the property ever was to be sold to persons outside the family. According to the county’s interpretation of the agreement, the agreement also states that once all original signors of the agreement were no longer living, the land would then be sold to the county. The last living member of the original signors, Edmund Talanda Sr., died on March 24, 2019.
The Talanda and Johnson families disagree with the county’s interpretation of the agreement in question, as well as how the process has unfolded. Both families attest that county commission discussions about the property with their attorney have occurred in closed session and attempts to discuss the issue with John Gisler, the commissioner who represents their district, have been denied, according to Levine.
“Our families are entitled to be heard,” Levine, attorney for the Johnson family, told MLive/The Kalamazoo Gazette. “They feel the county commission has not afforded them that opportunity by doing all of their business under the cover of darkness in a closed session.”
By not being afforded the chance to talk with the county on the matter, as well as for other reasons, Levine says the two families have been denied due process. Levine argues that nowhere in the agreement does it state that the cottage, now partially owned by the Johnson family and partially by the Talanda Trust, is not allowed to remain in the family.
“They just want the opportunity to be able to address the history of the property and come to an agreement that would allow them to continue to use the property which is rightfully theirs and that they have been paying taxes on for 60 years,” Levine said in his interview with MLive/The Kalamazoo Gazette. “It’s hard to believe that it is necessary for the county government to take private property with 142 feet of frontage on Gourdneck Lake (where the County enjoys approximately ½ miles of frontage), located off the beaten track away from where any park activity is, where four generations of this family have enjoyed this land with no issues whatsoever, up until recently.”
Those issues have only stemmed from the county “swooping in” and attempting to take the land, Levine said.
“The gist of a condemnation lawsuit is that not only do they have to offer just compensation, which they have not, but the taking has to be what is deemed under the law as necessary,” Levine said.
Read the full MLive/The Kalamazoo Gazette story, here.