University opts out of Bellevue property purchases

Contact: Cheryl Roland

KALAMAZOO—Western Michigan University officials announced today they will not go ahead with the previously announced decision to purchase 10 homes on Bellevue Place and Oakland Drive that are immediately adjacent to the north edge of the University's East Campus.

The $370,000 purchase had been approved by the WMU Board of Trustees in January. While the University had no long-term plans for the land involved in the purchase, WMU officials announced that they would demolish the homes to create green space for the community and a more attractive entry point to that part of the WMU campus.

The initiative generated opposition from some community members concerned that the University planned to demolish the buildings without specific approval from the local Historic District Commission. The homes targeted for demolition are not considered historic homes, but the property does fall within the South Street-Vine Area Local Historic District.

The city's historic preservation coordinator asked its attorneys to investigate whether the Historic District Commission would have jurisdiction over the homes if WMU owned them. WMU officials maintain that under state law, the University is exempt from such local zoning and planning ordinances.

"This was a very simple purchase, and we thought the use of the area for green space would be of great benefit to both the community and the University," says Jan Van Der Kley, WMU vice president for business and finance. "It was never our intent, though, to spark an uncomfortable and adversarial issue with the city. Neither the city nor the University want to set what each side believes might be an inappropriate precedent, so the simple solution is for us to pass on this purchase opportunity."