THREE OAKS — Emotions ran high during the May 13 meeting of the Three Oaks Township Board as attendees commented for over an hour on what they felt the fate of the historic old township hall should be or not be.
The property (at 8 West Linden St.) was deeded to the township in 1917 for one dollar by Charles K. and Fannie Warren with the stipulation that it “…be used for the purpose of the Town Hall, or Public Park, or Ground, School or some public and general use and not to be sold or converted to any private use, otherwise to revert to the grantor, his heirs and assigns.”
Since the township purchased the current township hall (the former Fifth Third Bank branch structure at 6810 West U.S. 12), and officials relocated to that facility in November, 2017, they have been trying to figure out what to do with the old township hall that was built in 1866.
Township officials decided to try to ascertain what they could legally do or not do with the old building and parcel by directing the township attorney to file a motion with the Civil Division of the Berrien County Trial Court in order for a judge to make a motion on the matter, and that decision is expected in the near future.
A favorable court order for the township would give officials, among other things, the option to sell the old township hall for the highest price obtainable, with the proceeds of the sale being reinvested in the present township hall property.
However, another stumbling block is that the old township hall building encroaches on an adjacent alley.
As the plaintiff in the case, in paperwork filed with the court it was noted that counsel emailed numerous possible relatives of Charles K. Warren advising of their possible interest in this case and had not received any responses.
Supervisor George Mangold said that in September, 2017 he had contacted the Michigan Townships Association and told them that with declining revenues he didn’t know whether or not the old building could be maintained after it was vacated.
“I was given an outline of our duties and was advised that we needed to get value for value for that property,” Mangold stated. “We just can’t hand over a building if it has value.”
He also said that he’d had discussions with Village of Three Oaks officials, and that president David Grosse as well as village manager Mike Greene, and neither expressed any interest in the old township hall.
Most attendees who commented on the matter during the May 13 meeting expressed their desire to have the historic building preserved and not sold off.
Among them was former supervisor Chuck Sittig who noted that he and others have been able to locate heirs to the Warren family.
“If it is decided that the township has the right to sell it off to the highest bidder, is that the best use for it?” Sittig asked. “I feel it should not be bargained off and stolen from the people. I think a joint Parks and Recreation Board could be formed with the village to help determine what should be done, or it could be deeded back to the Warren family.”
Township attorney David M. Peterson was present and said that the township is unable to do anything with the old property unless a judge authorizes it.
“That’s why we filed in court,” Peterson said. “You can’t just give away public property that has value. We’re waiting for a judge to tell us something.
“I assure you that everything that’s been done has been done according to the court rules,” he added. “The township has said that they don’t want to be in the landlord business, and nothing can be done until the judge makes a decision.”
Peterson also said that in order to transfer a property there needs to be a certified closing through a title company, and he didn’t know if anyone could sell it at this point because of the property encroachment.
Julie Sittig, who along with her husband Chuck is a member of the Board of Directors for the Region of Three Oaks Museum, said that organization would be interested in using the old township hall building for the storage of documents as well as a display area for some artifacts that perhaps would include the images of all former township supervisors.
“We just feel this building should be preserved and used for public purpose,” she stated. “It was a gift to the community from the Warrens, so please don’t look at it as a cash cow. We have very little of our history left, and we’re opposed to you considering selling this piece of it off.”
Both Mangold and Peterson reiterated that the township just wanted to discover what options it had pertaining to the old township hall property, and that no decision on what to do with it had been made.
This publication received correspondence from Roxanne Chamberlain Cargill of Houston, Texas, the great granddaughter of E.K. Warren (Charles Warren’s father), that included a request that the Three Oaks Township Board honor the original purpose of the deed.
“It is clear that Charles and Fanny wanted this property to be used for public purposes and not sold for private use,” Cargill wrote. “If there is any doubt that there are Warren relatives that wish for the philanthropic purposes of this property to be honored, please know I am one; my sister (Lydia Warren Chamberlain) is another; and my half-brother William Benton Chamberlain III is another. I am writing for all three of us. We are the grandchildren of Lydia Warren Chamberlain, E.K.’s daughter, who lived in Three Oaks for many years.”
She went on to write that she would be happy to discuss the concerns of “the far-flung Warren relatives” with township officials and included her contact information.
In other business, after going into closed session with attorney Peterson for about 25 minutes to discuss the matter of the old township hall as well as the current status of the Enterprise Park property, Mangold said that a developer had expressed an interest in purchasing the large parcel with about 60 usable acres that are currently in agricultural usage.
“This is the third developer who has expressed an interest in that land in the past three years, and he has indicated that he is interested in acquiring it all,” Mangold said.
In 2015 the township entered into a contract for conditional transfer of that property with the village pursuant to Public Act 425 of 1984, a legal move done through mutual cooperation to foster quality economic development to benefit their respective communities and the greater Harbor Country area.
Among other things, the Public Act 425 contract states that the Village will provide all municipal services to the transferred area, and it shall have full jurisdiction over that area for all purposes, in the same manner as though the transferred area were unconditionally part of the Village, including but not limited to the power of taxation, the collection of revenues, the levying of special assessments, elections, and full ordinance and statute authority.
Utilities provided by the Village would include water and sanitary sewer service.
Mangold said that discussions with the potential buyer were only in the initial stages and that a sale price had yet to be determined.