Just before the railroad tracks and river meet on Huron River Dr. between Delhi Metropark and Wagner Rd., a large, colorful, eye-catching sign appeared after the first of the year:
HURON RIVER ESTATES: Build Your Own Huron River Estate.
90 acres available. One-mile waterfront.
A2 public schools, Scio Township. Larry Gotcher, 386-1315.
Behind the sign stretch undulating fields, and beyond them curious passersby can catch glimpses of deer blinds, a blossoming tree line, and the promise of river views hidden behind them.
Twenty-nine calls over a two-month period to the 386-1315 number and to Gotcher’s Century 21 office (where an assistant admitted, “We’ve had problems with that number”) reached Gotcher exactly once. In mid-February he said that he was about to sign a sales contract for the property and promised more information by the end of the week. “I have two other buyers in the wings, if this doesn’t work out,” he said. But he never followed up or answered subsequent phone calls and messages to his office and his cell phone numbers.
A call to Carlisle Wortman & Associates, planning consultants for Scio Township, reached Laura Kreps and Doug Lewan. They say they know nothing about a current project on the site, though Lewan says that “some time ago” he discussed the property with the owner.
“He was interested in exploring various options for the property, but it has challenges,” Lewan recalls. “Any project on this site will require approval” from Scio’s planning commission, from the county road commission, and from the railroad–MDOT’s Detroit-Chicago train line cuts through the property. “It would seem to me that won’t be easy,” Lewan says. “But, to date, the Scio Township planning commission has received no submissions.”
“Local farmers have planted corn for the owner for many years,” one neighbor offers. Another adds, “When I was a young boy, I was told that the Ojibwe natives farmed those fields long before settlers came. Over the years, a fair number of arrowheads and stone tools were harvested there by farmers and youngsters.”
A Scio Township map on Washtenaw County’s website identifies Edward J. Kloian as owning two parcels. The larger one, 76 acres, is adjacent to Delhi Metropark; it has an assessed value (half the estimated market value) of $470,700 and a taxable value of $195,827. Across Huron River Dr., a 14-acre parcel has an assessed value of $247,000 and taxable value of $38,482. On the map, the large parcel is shaped like a teacup turned upside down on Huron River Dr.
Googling “Edward J. Kloian” and dialing the contact number for the foundation in his name finally led to answers.
“I bought this land nearly forty years ago from a local farmer named Bernard Richmond, who lived on Tubbs Rd.,” Kloian says. “His family owned this land for more than one hundred years. I haven’t been out there in ten years, but a local farmer rents the land from me and raises corn there. You should see an old shed and a metal building [now collapsed] from the Richmond days. Richmond’s brother was a pilot. He kept his plane there and used the field as a runway.
Kloian, a semiretired developer of malls and shopping centers, says he offered to sell the property to the county parks commission for a “reasonable price,” but they disagreed about its value. A broker he’d consulted suggested that subdivided into residential lots, the property might be worth $11 million. A county-hired appraiser, valuing it as farmland, came up with a price that Kloian calls “a scant one-third of what it should have been, of what a fair price would be. I was so frustrated that I dropped the idea altogether and decided to offer it for sale.”
He says that a buyer had been found and lost recently, and “the listing and contingencies on the land expired last December.” Subdividing the parcels, he says, would yield as many as thirty two-acre home sites; twenty of them would front the river. “This is some of the last–and best–riverfront property that is undeveloped, so the lots won’t be cheap,” he says. “I’m anticipating million-dollar homes, especially those on the river.”
He says he’s talked with railroad officials, who’ve told him that a bridge arched over the railroad tracks would be needed to access the larger parcel. As the entrance now stands, the tracks run only about five car-lengths from the road, so the bridge would be located west of the current access.
Kloian says he’d still “be more than happy” to see the site remain open. “It wouldn’t need more than a pedestrian bridge if the land could be accessed from Delhi Metropark,” he says. However, he hasn’t spoken to either the Metroparks administration or the Legacy Land Conservancy. “I intended to write letters, but I’ve had a lot on my plate in recent years,” he says. “I’d even be willing to sell the large parcel to the park system and keep the smaller one across the road.”
On a warm spring day in early May, the cornfields were still covered in stubble. Two Canadian geese feasting on forage in the fields turned and glared at a reporter and a passing bicyclist who’d stopped. A post held a small red “NO TRESPASSING” sign.
“I wish there was a way this could remain open space,” the bicyclist said.
From Calls & Letters, July 2017
A reader called to suggest fact-checking Ed Kloian’s description of the “mystery property” he’s trying to sell on Huron River Dr. (Inside Ann Arbor, June)–specifically, his description of it as “riverfront property.”
The land, which is shaped like an upside-down teacup nestled between Delhi Metropark and the point where the railroad tracks cross the road, is indeed bordered by the Huron River. But a spokesperson for a local title company confirms that much of the actual riverfront does not belong to Kloian but to the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission.
County records indicate that sometime before 1971 the Lucking family purchased a strip of waterfront ninety feet wide that comprises ten acres, as well as a fifty-foot-wide strip that amounts to an additional acre. “The deed has at least ten titles,” the spokesperson says. “In 1976, Harden Lucking, Starbuck Lucking, and William Lucking deeded their interest to the Nature Conservancy, which conveyed the property to WCPARC in 1982. Kloian does not own those eleven acres of water frontage that border his property.”
When asked for clarification, Kloian says, “A long time ago that land belonged to Detroit Edison, perhaps with an eye to damming it for electricity in the future, or some such thing. Yes, Lucking bought it, but it’s completely landlocked. I offered to buy it from him, but he probably got a crazy-good evaluation for the property and donated it instead.”
Kloian says that the county doesn’t own the entire river frontage: “I still have some waterfront property near the railroad tracks.”