COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON - Marjorie Hamminga, owner of the Tasty Nut Shop in White Pigeon, stands behind the counter of her shop on the corner of Chicago Road and Kalamazoo Street. The building housing the shop is under scrutiny due to structural integrity issues, which may force the 150-year-old building to be torn down, along with the 100-year-old Tasty Nut Shop.

Fate of Tasty Nut Shop building hangs in the balance

WHITE PIGEON — The fate of a nearly 150-year-old building and a 100-year-old business in White Pigeon appears to be coming down to a single structural inspection report.

The building that houses the Tasty Nut Shop, a staple in the White Pigeon community, and an adjoining catering business, located on the corner of Kalamazoo Street and Chicago Road, is under scrutiny by code and building enforcement in the village due to reported structural integrity issues that have popped up in the last several months.

The issues, according to Zoning Administrator Doug Kuhlman, stem from pieces of brick and mortar falling off of the building in the last few months. He said complaints have been coming in to the village for the last two months, which led to the village notifying Kuhlman and Building Inspector Joe Wickey to come and take a look at it.

“They turned it over to myself and the building inspector, and we went down and looked at it, and without any reservation, said it’s way above our level of expertise, so we need to have a structural engineer come in and look at the building,” Kuhlman said.

In a special meeting of the White Pigeon Village Council Oct. 18, the village approved hiring a structural engineer to conduct an inspection of the property and provide a written report to the village. The inspection took place on Nov. 3, with Kuhlman, Wickey and a structural engineer from Jones Petrie Rafinski of South Bend, Ind. performing the inspection. Kuhlman said the report has not been completed yet, and more than likely would not be ready in time for the village council’s next meeting, Wednesday, but they would schedule a special meeting when it is to present the findings.

Kuhlman mentioned there could be backlash from the community regarding the situation, but said it comes down to the “public safety of the village of White Pigeon.”

“I understand it's a monumental building, and there's nobody that wants to see it torn down. We're doing this inspection 100 percent for the public safety of the community of White Pigeon. Nothing else,” Kuhlman said.

Kuhlman added that barricades were ordered to be put up by the structural engineer along the west side of the building two days prior to the inspection to block access to the sidewalk due to the reported issues.

Marjorie Hamminga, 86, the owner of the Tasty Nut Shop since 1986, said she has known about the building’s issues for a “long time,” and has attempted to hire companies to do general maintenance around the building and “patch things up to keep it going.” She added the southwest corner of the building is settled, but wasn’t sure what caused it to happen.

When it comes to long-term care of the building, however, she said she has been having difficulties with the village with helping fix issues with the structure.

“They never came over here and saw my daughter and I. No one from the village council or the village,” Hamminga said. “I don't expect them to give me money. There are historical grants, but I'm not a grant writer.”

Hamminga said she has tried to get help, but said there’s a lot of red tape to go through to get anything, adding that “no one has come to us and said, 'can we help you?'” She said she has gotten a couple of calls from Michigan’s State Historic Preservation Office, and that attempts to send in paperwork to the state to try to get help have been unfruitful.

She said the situation is affecting her business substantially, given that most of her sales come during the holiday season via the shop’s mail order business.

“Our Christmas business is huge. I want to get through Christmas,” Hamminga said. “My daughter has her catering business next door too, so we're all trying to get through Christmas.”

Hamminga said if the building does in fact need to be torn down, she has had two unspecified communities in St. Joseph County that would be willing to take them in.

However, Hamminga claims the whole situation behind the inspection and supposed efforts to “tear down” the building is “retaliation” by Village President Tyler Royce for an incident that occurred after the August storms rolled through White Pigeon. She said the incident occurred when Royce took a fallen tree from her daughter Linda Hochstetler’s property a few days after the storm. Hamminga said her daughter was planning on selling the fallen tree to pay for cleanup expenses, but that the tree was taken from her property without permission.

Royce, in an interview Friday, said Hamminga’s claims were “false,” adding that she was trying to “put blame somewhere else to take the spotlight off of them.” He did admit he took the tree in question and placed it in the village’s “tree dump,” where it remains today, but denies that there was any wrongdoing.

“Did the village remove a tree that was fallen on or near her property? Yes, I can't deny that,” Royce said. “After further investigation, the tree was within the village right-of-way, so there was no criminal activity or theft. It was a tree that belonged to the village and fell across her property, so we cleaned it up.”

Kuhlman also denied Hamminga’s claim, saying Royce is “absolutely not” a part of the situation, adding he and Wickey are “not taking orders from Tyler.”

“I hate to keep bringing up a dead horse, but I have no loyalties to Tyler Royce,” Kuhlman said. He cited an incident from June where he cited Royce and reported him to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) for tearing down a commercial building on South Kalamazoo Street without a permit.

Hamminga also claims that there are bids already out to have the buildings and the “entire block” demolished. Both Kuhlman and Royce said they were “totally unfounded” and that there was “no truth” to those claims.

Hamminga said the situation makes her feel like she’s “beating my head against the wall.”

“It's like everybody's running over us, and I won't go down without a fight,” Hamminga said.

Royce said the building is a safety concern for the village.

“There's oftentimes you drive down the road and see what would've been fragments of bricks being pulverized as cars drive over them,” Royce said. “With the sidewalk behind there, the main intersection, a lot of traffic, we just felt it'd be necessary to get into this situation before people get hurt.

“From a visual observation, anyone can see walking down the street, the southwest corner is obviously what appears to be in worse shape than others, but we haven't seen or heard back from the engineer on what his report looks like.”

Royce said nobody has formally requested assistance from the village prior to this point for funding to fix problems with the building, but promises that if the building could be saved, the village would help out as much as they could to try to repair it.

“Should the building be able to be rebuilt or worked on to be brought back to a safe state, the village will look into options to bring it back to life,” Royce said. “That's been said in multiple settings throughout a couple different meetings.”

Hamminga said she is hoping for the best with the situation, and is hopeful to get grants to help fix the building, but is bearish on getting the help she needs, saying she’s “at the age where I could walk away.”

“I was thinking of giving the business to my grandson, which I'd have to sell to him, but he's very interested in keeping it,” Hamminga added. “It's historical. We’ve been here 101 years. Do White Pigeon people care if it's torn down? Do the people of St. Joseph County care? Do they care, or are they gonna say, ‘it didn’t happen to me, so it’s not my problem’?”

Royce said he’s also hopeful the building can be saved.

“I'm hoping for the best. It's a landmark. A lot of people throughout the county and southwest lower Michigan recognize that building. It's one of the only three-story buildings we have in town. The sign's been there forever, and certainly don't want to see it go,” Royce said. “I hope that it's recoverable and we can save it, and the village will look into options for her.”

However, it will be the structural report that will determine the building’s ultimate fate.

“We're going to do our due diligence to do what we have to do, and we're waiting on those official reports to see what direction we travel,” Kuhlman said.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 23 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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