The History of 415 Kendall Avenue

In the summer of '42, a small cap cod style home was built on two acres of land on South Kendall Avenue.  The home was built by the VandeGiessen Family.  This name should sound familiar as the street that runs along side Gilmore/Shaw Theater Complex, Brown Hall, Sprau  Tower, Friedmann Hall, and Moore Hall is named after this family. 

It is an honor for us, but in particular, me, to own 415 Kendall Avenue.  Why?  Because I grew up within a 1/2 mile of this property and I remember what a great  homestead it once was.  The original home was accompanied by a garage or two, an in-ground swimming pool, a small log cabin, two acres of land, stables, and yes, horses.  Today, if one looked around the perimeter of the property they would see tell tail signs of earlier, mFence Postore tranquil times.   Still standing are the 8x8 fence posts along the southern boarder, fence gates that contained the grazing area for the horses, and even the remains of the original stables.   The small log cabin was, unfortunately, beyond repair and unable to be saved.

In 1973, Western Michigan University bought the home primarily because the land upon which the home sat was contiguous to WMU's property.  Shortly thereafter, and due to the beginning of the oil embargo of 1974, the Engineering Department at WMU converted the home to what eventually became  known as the Western Environmental Living Lab, otherwise known as the WELLs house.  Here, the powers that be tested alternative energy, primarily that provided by the sun.  The south side of the home was covered by a solar collector used to warm air that was used to heat the house.  Pictured to the right is a schematic of the solar collector system.  The garage had solar collectors attached Property Historyto the roof that were used to heat water which supplemented the needs of the home.  There were wind meters, water gauges, temperature gauges, and hundreds of feet of data cables providing information to a central analysis box.  Ironically, the only insulation in the entire house, for the most part, we put in after we bought the home.  Although I am not an authority on alternative energy, my guess would be that simply insulating the home and replacing the windows would have saved more energy then trying to harness the power of the sun.  But, what do I know.

Over the next several years the home operated as the WELLs Home...Until, of course, the issues with running out of oil went away.  At that point, the immediate need to study alternative energy wained and the home had become nothing more than a rental property. 

In April, 2001 we bought the property from Western Michigan University.  Then the fun began.  What you are about to learn should be worth at least 3 credit hours as this case study would represent a full semester worth of lessons in purchasing and developing real estate.   

All properties are zoned by the municipality in which they reside.  Zoning allows for an orderly development of land.  For instance, one zone might allow only single family homes be built on a tract of land, where another tract might allow for only duplexes, while the next zone might allow for high density multi-family construction. A zone known as "Institutional" generally indicates that the land is not under the jurisdiction of the municipality even though it may be surrounded by land which is.  The WELLS home, while owned by WMU, was under an institutional zoning status.

Once the property changed hands from WMU to a private owner, us, the the City of Kalamazoo zoning office decided that 415 Kendall Avenue should be returned to a zone status that of single family.  Given the location and proximity to surrounding housing, this of course made no sense.  So, here is where the fun really began.  Our objective was to turn the home and land into a zone that would allow for a higher density zone thus allowing us to develop the land with student housing.  Given the location, this made perfect sense.  

So, the first step is to pay the fee necessary for the Planning Commission to publish the date and time of your hearing in the local newspaper and then to hear your arguments.  At that time, it was a $750 fee.    Once the application is made and the fee is paid, a date is set to hear your intentions and reason for requesting the zoning change.  When you show up for your hearing, be prepared for all those that do NOT want to see this development take place.  The usual cast of characters attend; those that don't want the noise, those that don't want the lights, and those that don't want the added traffic.  Everyone has their time to present to the planning commission.  Thankfully your time is limited to just 4 minutes.   But, be prepared to face all those neighbors, and then some, who would just as soon see you dry up and blow away.  At this point, you must have the strength to pursue your dream.  Do NOT be deterred.

Although you can feel defeated before you even have a chance to present your plans, you must be strong and confident in your speech, while maintaining a strong conviction for your project.  To give you an idea, it was painfully clear that our property, given the location, size of lot, type of neighbors, and proximity to campus that logic alone would suggest a zone change to multi family.  You would think that a zone change for this ideally situated piece of real estate would have been a "slam dunk".  Not so fast. To make a long story shorter, it took an entire year for us to travel through the rezoning process.  It took an entire year, several city planning and commission meetings, many sleepless nights, and plenty of daggars thrown at us, to finally achieve the zone change.   

Along the way, it occurred to me that only those people who are interested in seeing your project be rejected, attend the city planning meetings.   The people attending the meetings repesent a small minority of the people presumably impacted by your project. The vast majority of the people impacted by your project, do not attend the meetings, and therefore, theoretically don't care.  Or, at least that don't see the project as illogical consideration on your part.  

Recognizing this discrepency, we had to determine how to give those that didn't care about the project, much less attending the meeings on our behalf, a voice.  To address this issue, we put together a short questionnaire about the project and hit the streets.  We went door to door throughout the neighborhood(s) who the City believed to be the most affected, and asked for a minute of their time.  We explained the project.  We reviewed several key factors about our project.  We asked the listener if they had any issue with us developing the land.  If not, we asked them to sign our petition.  We collected nearly 200 signatures.  The leason to learn...if you are passionate about your desires, you will out think and out work those that want to see you fail.  Presenting our petition at the next planning meeting was next up on our personal agenda.

To be continued...