July 27 2017 11:45 AM

Council approves ballot question on selling historic Cooley-Haze House

The fate of one of the last city-owned historic properties could be decided by voters in November.

City Council, on the advice of the Lansing Parks Board and the Lansing Planning Commission, approved ballot language Monday night to ask voters’ permission to sell the historic Cooley-Haze House, 213 W. Malcolm X St.

“This is not a decision I took lightly,” said Veronica Gracia Wing, president of the Parks Board. “I am a self-described preservationist. But this seems to be the best way to keep the property from degrading.”

The building last played home to the Michigan Women’s Historical Center, which vacated the property in April, leaving city officials with the question of what to do with an aging building and a limited parks budget. The Parks Board appointed a special committee, chaired by Gracia Wing, to review options for the property. It will also begin to inventory and make recommendations on other historic assets under the Parks purview.

Local Realtor Joe Vitale; Cassandra Nelson, a Lansing Historic District commissioner; and Park Board member Paulette Carter-Scott served on the committee.

After reviewing the building’s history and structural integrity, the committee determined the building would be best served by transferring it to private ownership, she said, Among the findings, the building requires extensive exterior upgrades, including scraping and repainting of the wood shingle exterior, replacement windows and an upgrade on the boiler. The known set of repairs could run in excess of $100,000, the report from the committee said.

“What we didn’t want to see happen was what happened with Scott Center/ Jenison House,” she said. “That is, letting it continuing to deteriorate while the city tries to figure out what to do with it.”

She referred to the city-owned property that was torn down to make room for the Lansing Board of Water & Light’s new substation. The BWL was prepared to relocate the building but no one wanted it because of its condition. The sale of the Cooley-Haze House could be a hard sell with the installation of the Central Substation less than a block away.

Gracia Wing and the committee, with approval of the Parks Board and the Planning Board, said any sale of the building should include an historic covenant. Such a legal restriction would require the future property owner to maintain specific architectural aspects of the building, namely the roof line and the facade, while still qualifying for state and historic registration and tax credits.

How much the property is worth is hard to nail down, she said, noting that there are no other comparable properties in the city. She said she hopes the price the city can get for the property will also recognize the “significant amount of TLC” the building is going to require to bring it up to standard.

In addition to the building, a small section of land will also be sold with the home if voters say yes in November. Cooley Gardens, which is adjacent to the home, will be unaffected, Gracia Wing said.