BY CHRIS FAULKNOR AND BENJAMIN J. GOHS
How much will it cost, who will pay for it, and who even wants it?
Boyne City residents, business owners and other stakeholders are being asked to opine on the 475 North Lake St. property.
“Our goal here is to brainstorm and hear your thoughts,” said Boyne City Mayor Tom Neidhamer during the Tuesday April 18 walking tour of the Open Space property.
Despite the many public meetings and local news stories regarding the Boyne City Open Space property, there still seems to be a fair amount of confusion on the matter.
The facts are the city does not yet own the property—it merely leases it for $1 per year—and the two men who own the land want the city to purchase it from them at their cost, plus certain fees, and use it for public park space for the rest of time.
“Mr. (Mike) Dow and Mr. (Bob) Grove have said that they … want it forever to be open space. So, for it to forever be open space, they put an easement on it through the conservancy. And, upon purchase, final closure when we take ownership—if we do indeed take ownership—then the easement would take place.”
Neidhamer said the easement would restrict parking toward the bathroom and fish-cleaning station for approximately 20 cars; it must remain open space with no structures but a walkway and bike path, benches and picnic areas might be allowed. The easement would allow moorings in the water but not docks.
“So, we have to come up with some money to pay the difference,” said Neidhamer, who added that there has been an appraised value but that the figure is sealed.
“Mr. Grove and Mr. Dow paid a certain amount of money,” Neidhamer said. “The actual amount that they paid is actually secured in an affidavit that’s not open to the public… But, they have indicated that they want a certain price tag for it and that does not necessarily reflect what they paid for it because they’ve had a lot of extra expenses—closing costs (and) they’ve paid about … $60,000 per year and are continuing to do that until the transfer to the city, if that happens.”
Neidhamer said the city is in the process of having another appraisal performed on the property.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund Grant was awarded this spring to Boyne City at 74 percent of a $3.3 million cost.
“Now, exactly how much of that we get depends on the appraisals that are done on the property,” said Boyne City Manager Michael Cain during the official meeting on the issue which followed the walking tour. “We had one preliminary appraisal done that reported the property in the $2 million value. That would get us about $1.5 million.”
Cain said the original appraisal was done a couple years ago, and that’s why the city is having new appraisals performed.
A title search was performed in recent weeks which shows the property is free and clear with its chain of custody.
“The worst-case scenario we came up with is we’d have to come up with $1.7 million,” Cain said during the walking tour. “We’re hoping that it will come in a lot less but that will be dependent on the appraisals that we’re gonna have done.”
He added, “We want to do whatever we can to minimize the gap that we have.”
Cain also said an environmental assessment of the property performed by the MDEQ has identified some chemicals on the site—one is six inches from the topsoil near the beach area; and the other chemical is 24 inches down.
Cain said the MDEQ found no major environmental problems with the site.
“I don’t think there is anything immediate that we need to do about it but we have to analyze that report in fuller detail,” Cain said. “I think really what we’ve got to do is get it cleaned up, stabilized.”
He added, “Probably the biggest investment upfront is probably going to be coming up with the final plan of what we want to do on the site. You know, where are the trails going to go, what amenities do we want to have here, and then start looking for the funding to make that happen.”
One person who attended the walking tour said she liked the idea of having a pavilion on the open space. Cain said a standard pavilion would not be allowed but that some unobtrusive modified version might work.
The official meeting on the Boyne City Open Space property was held in Boyne City Commission chambers in the temporary city hall building.
Cain opened the meeting with a presentation of facts and figures regarding the land.
The Open Space is approximately four-and-a-half acres in size, and contains nearly 600 feet of Lake Charlevoix frontage.
The lease the city has on the property is good until Dec. 30, 2017. However, Cain said that could be extended as long as both parties are agreeable.
To the north, the property abuts the city’s main boat launch area. To the south, it abuts the Honeywell building.
Cain said some people have asked the city what will happen with the privately owned Honeywell property.
“We’ve made it known to Honeywell that, one—we want to see those jobs stay in the community as long as possible; but, two—if things ever change on that, that we would like an opportunity to acquire that property as well,” Cain said.
475 North Lake St. Timeline
Information presented is to the best recollection of city records and officials
Boyne City owned the property—then in 1953 or 1965, the city sold the property for business development.
The property was sold in 1967, 1988, 1990, and 1994. Sometime in the 1990s, a company convinced the city to drop a buyback provision on the property which had stated that if the property ever stopped being used as a business, the city would have the ability to purchase the property.
A few years after the buyback provision was eliminated, the factory on the property closed.
The city then made repeated offers to purchase the property. However, they were not successful.
The property was purchased in 2005 by Devlon Corp. for the development of a hotel, condo and marina development.
The property sat vacant except for the skeleton of a small structure and fence on the property.
Then, in 2015, Mike Dow and Bob Grove bought the property with the plan of keeping it as public open space. Shortly after, Boyne City leased the property for $1.
Paying for the Property
Cain said the city doesn’t have the money in its coffers to pay for the property.
Cain said the city could raise its general operating millage by a half or three-quarters of a mil without a vote of the people—that would generate approximately $100,000 annually.
“As long as I have been with the city, people have said to me and a few others as well that, if ever there is an opportunity to buy lakefront property … the city should go for it,” said Cain.
Going to the voters for a new millage seemed to be the most likely idea for paying for the Open Space.
As an example, Cain said a fifteen-year millage at .75 of a mil would come close to raising the $1.7 million figure which could be possible.
Cain cautioned that those are all just ballpark numbers to give people an idea of costs.
He also reminded those in attendance that the $1.7 million is a worst-case scenario.
Someone asked what would happen if a millage was put to a vote of the people and it failed, or if nothing is settled before the lease is up this winter, and how will the city maintain rights to it.
“Then we’d have to enter into negotiations and discussions with the property owners to see what the next steps are,” Cain said. “Obviously, depending on what the results of the election were—if it was close, what the feedback we received on the election—there’s a lot of variables in there that we don’t know.”
Someone in the audience said there should have been a concrete plan to pay for the property before the city began pursuing purchase of it.
Cain said the city didn’t even know until this spring that the MDNR Trust Fund moneys would be available.
Cain said the city has three to five years to make the property work before they have to worry about losing the MDNR Trust Fund grant.
Boyne City resident, realtor and Charlevoix County Commissioner Chris Christensen asked city officials if it would be possible to purchase the property on land contract.
“We’re coming into the second year of a 20-year millage,” Christensen said. “To go for another millage that could extend for 10 to 30 years … I don’t know how well that’s going to go.”
One attendee asked if there was a concern over possible millage fatigue among voters and whether it was due to the size of the millage or the levying of the millage in general.
Boyne City Commissioner Hugh Conklin said the matter needs to be put in the right perspective.
“That’s not very bad that the community’s getting (4.5) acres of lakefront property for $1.7 million, and somebody else is paying $2.3—or whatever—million,” he said.
“I think we need to frame the discussion maybe a little bit differently… We’re making an investment in the future for the community to have forever.”
Conklin added, “And that’s an excellent price.”
No decisions were made as the city is still in the information-gathering phase.
If you would like to share your opinions on the project, call Boyne City Hall at 582-6597.