COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON - A view of the Union Hall Block building in White Pigeon Thursday. St. Joseph County District Court Judge Jeff Middleton ordered on June 29 that nobody is to be in the building without prior permission, brought on by a catering company continuing to operate out of the building despite concerns about its structural integrity.

Judge: No one permitted in former Tasty Nut Shop building without permission

CENTREVILLE — The use of the former Tasty Nut Shop building in White Pigeon for business-related purposes was quashed for the time being at a special court hearing last week.

In a show cause hearing held in St. Joseph County 3B District Court June 29, Judge Jeff Middleton ordered that entry to the condemned building on 100 and 102 E. Chicago Rd. would be off-limits to those that don’t have prior written permission to be in the building.

Additionally, the order stipulated locks be changed, electricity and utilities be turned off to the building, and that the owners of a catering company that was still operating out of one half of the building as recently as June not enter the premises.

The 160-year-old brick building was condemned by the village last fall for safety-related reasons related to structural integrity in the building’s exterior and interior. The building, formerly owned by Marjorie Hamminga and her daughter Linda Hochstetler, is now owned by the nonprofit Union Hall Block Building, Inc. (UHBBI), which is seeking to fix and restore the building.

At issue at the June 29 hearing was an administrative search warrant executed by the village on June 12, which found evidence that the catering company, Silver Spoons Catering, was still operating out of the building and catered a wedding reception the day prior in spite of the state of the building. Silver Spoons is owned by Jean and Max Webster, Hamminga’s daughter and son-in-law. The Websters, including their son Mason, were present for the hearing.

Roxanne Seeber, attorney for the Village of White Pigeon, said the village’s concern is with people’s safety, and added that a report from Zoning Administrator Doug Kuhlman on what was found in the search confirmed there was evidence of cooking that took place in the kitchen.

“The information is, well we were in there cleaning up, but when you look at the photographs it looks like it’s a lot more than cleaning up,” Seeber said. “There’s spots in there that say a wedding was taking place or there was something in the refrigerator labeled for a wedding. We’re a little bit concerned about volunteers going in and out of the building, we do not have an affidavit as required by the International Property Maintenance Code indicating that the new owner will be responsible for the building.”

Seeber said while she understands the catering business is “not our fight” and that the Websters could still continue the business, they can’t continue to utilize the building for it. She added she wanted UHBBI to “step up,” prohibiting access and turning off the electricity and utilities to the building, as well as let the village know if and when people are going to be coming in and out of the building.

“If they are going to be in this building with professionals or the owners who know what they’re doing, would you please just let the village know?” Seeber asked.

Middleton, who mentioned that he coincidentally attended the wedding reception in question at Silver Spoons on June 11 (all parties indicated they were okay to proceed with the matter when asked by Middleton), said in Seeber’s recent filing regarding the situation, she wanted the defendants in the case – Hamminga, Hochstetler and UHBBI – to be found in contempt of court because of the situation. However, in his order, no contempt of court was found, since the Websters were not party to the case at hand and that the parties involved in the case weren’t involved with the reception.

Middleton read a statement from UHBBI that stated they have taken steps to restrict entry to the building, most of which was outlined in Seeber’s motion. The steps included permitting entry only with permission from the UHBBI Board President or two directors using a sign-in sheet, the board informing the village of the time and purpose for authorized entries, and that utilities for the building have been turned off. In addition, the nonprofit’s statement read that they have been moving forward with the court’s order from May 25 to get the building to a “non-dangerous condition.”

“In short, the moving efforts were necessary in advance of contracted work at the premises. The board has not granted access to anyone for the use of the building for any other purpose,” the statement read. “The board has nonetheless taken reasonable actions to mitigate safety concerns and respectfully ask this court to deny the request for a finding of contempt.”

Middleton said he viewed pictures from the report produced by Kuhlman, calling the state of the kitchen “deplorable with a capital d,” and noting that there were items in the kitchen’s refrigerator labeled “wedding.”

“It looked like the place was being used as business as usual, as a home base for their catering business, which caused the village concern. In the pleading, they deny that,” Middleton said. “It also appeared someone may have been sleeping in there.”

Seeber reiterated that despite denials by parties involved, there has been activity at the catering business following the condemnation of the building.

“Clearly, someone’s lying to somebody. They were cooking in there, there’s no doubt. We had heard that Marjorie and Linda were prohibiting entry and that everything was moved out and there was no catering taking place. Well, it’s her sister, and clearly somebody’s got access to the building,” Seeber said.

Robert Soltis, the attorney defending Hamminga and Hochstetler, said neither of his clients currently have a key to the building.

Later, Paul Morgan of Willis Law, one of the attorneys representing UHBBI, said while their clients will keep in contact with the village regarding authorized activity at the building, he said it should be a “two-way street,” and that the village should do the same for his clients.

“I think there have been some instances where the new owners have not gotten information or notice of certain activities from the village,” Morgan said. “To the extent that’s true or not, I just would offer that two-way street open communication is important here. I don’t see why we’re not in a collaborative spirit, the new owners and the village, and I would hope that we could do that going forward here.”

As part of his order, Middleton stated that the village will be informed by UHBBI of any activity, and that the village will communicate with UHBBI as well.

Overall, Middleton said with his order, this is the “last incident like this that’s going to occur” with the building for the foreseeable future.

“This was an eye-opener for everybody involved that there’s a new owner of the premises, you can’t use it for business as usual, the locks have been changed, the utilities have been turned off,” Middleton said. “If there’s things that need to be moved out, [Silver Spoons] can coordinate with Union Block and notify the village that movers are going to be in there. But you can’t run a catering business out of there.”

A hearing addressing the safety-related improvements on the building being done by UHBBI is still set for a hearing on Wednesday, Aug. 31.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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