(Editor's note: These remarks were delivered by Nancy Kurdziel during the public comment period at the March 3, 2009, East Lansing City Council meeting. Kurdziel and other property owners in East Lansing's East Village neighborhood have been battling the city's efforts to declare their properties blighted in order to obtain them through eminent domain and allow a private company to redevelop them. The Mackinac Center on Feb. 10, 2009, hosted a property rights forum in East Lansing with Susette Kelo, whose name became synonymous with eminent domain abuse after she fought the city of New London, Conn., before the U.S. Supreme Court.)
Good Evening Mayor and Council.
I've been trying to decide what I should say to you this evening. It was obvious in Mr. Staton's (Op-Ed) in the Lansing State Journal on Feb. 19 that the vilified student landlord he referenced was us. Because we have been tireless advocates of the right to own property. Such a concept seems so obvious and basic to most Americans — the right to own property. Our family is very grateful for the work of our friends at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the Institute for Justice.
My parents are the founders of Prime Housing Group and have been good stewards of our properties. Both my parents worked other jobs in the process of building this company. They invested their own personal money and made great personal sacrifices to make this business work. And during these tough economic times, they should be commended for making good decisions that allow us to continue to maintain and operate our properties. We support eight families with this business. That's a lot of food on the table and a lot of mortgage payments.
We're not like the developer of City Center II, who is so strapped for cash right now that no one seems to know if they are still in business. And now the city has four major buildings one block from this city hall sitting vacant and boarded up while financing for this project is in limbo. And the East Village is blighted???
We have been personally vested in this community since 1975. We own, maintain, upgrade our properties and the only thing you do for us is say congratulations, you're blighted. Or possibly condemned. We're not sure, but we sure are hoping.
You know, there have been little, if any courtesies extended to me and my family during this whole East Village process. Case in point - we had to invite ourselves to "public" meetings where design plans were revealed for our property, our land. ASMSU (Michigan State University's student government) was given the opportunity to see these plans — we, the property owners, were not even invited to the meeting. We own the property! You can try to say that this is the master developer's responsibility to inform us of such meetings. But you continue to publicize this as a public/private partnership. Therefore, you, as well, bear responsibility to your taxpayers, the ones that pay your salary.
You cater to the master developer for the East Village who has exaggerated credentials — he never did build the Paseo, by the way, his "premier" project that was so similar to the East Village. I think it's fair to say that two very reputable local companies, Wolverine Development and DTN, have built more than Mr. Pierce.
You know, I'm almost grateful for Mr. Staton's (Op-Ed). All good writers know that when you compose something when you're mad, you're supposed to let it sit for 24 hours to see if the piece really says what you want it to say. I'm not sure if Mr. Staton followed this rule, but regardless, his true intentions, and the true intentions of the city he represents, rang through loud and clear. You hope our properties are contaminated so you can take them from us.
Well, guess what? They're not for sale. They've never been for sale. We have never once even entertained the concept of selling our properties nor entered into any negotiations. They are not for sale.
We are not anti-development. We are excited about the opportunity the East Village presents. But unlike our counterparts, we understand that the time is NOT right to do this project right now. We will continue to make good business decisions and will develop when the time is right. You'd think in this horrid economic crisis, we would be commended for this.
Either way, the property will remain ours. With all due respect, you aren't going to get it and neither is Pierce Education Properties. I don't think I can make myself more clear.
I thank you for your time.
In January 2007, Ms. Kurdziel was given the "Lives, Fortunes and Sacred Honor" award by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich.