Liberty Grove Won’t Rush Property Purchase

The Liberty Grove Town Board voted 4-1 to begin investigating the purchase of the Johnson and Czepulonis properties adjacent to the current Liberty Grove Visitor Center for use as a new visitor center. Photo by Len Villano.

At its Sept. 5 meeting, the Liberty Grove Town Board decided to pursue purchasing the Johnson and Czepulonis properties in Ellison Bay for a location of a new visitor center.

But board members aren’t ready to bring the purchase to vote by the town members just yet.

“Just to suddenly rush in and propose to buy the property because it’s available doesn’t make financial sense for the community,” said Liberty Grove Town Chairman John Lowry at the meeting.

Town board supervisor Nancy Goss suggested the board take the following steps before deciding to purchase the properties:

• Have the structure on the Johnson property inspected for use as a public building

• Evaluate costs of rehabilitating or tearing down the building on the Johnson property

• Have the septic system inspected by the Door County Sanitarian’s Department

• Have potential drainage issues evaluated by the Door County Soil and Water Department

“The property, the structure, has to be inspected,” Goss said at the meeting. “You can’t buy a pig in a poke. I don’t think any of you out there would consider buying a home without having a home inspection done. I just can’t justify putting the taxpayers on the hook without knowing what we’re getting into.”

The two properties are located across from the Viking Grill in Ellison Bay. The Czepulonis property, home to the current Liberty Grove Visitor Center, is located on the corner of State Highway 42 and Mink River Road. It is partially gravel and is currently shared by Door County North and the Viking Grill. The Johnson property is next to the Czepulonis property, located just north on State Highway 42 and extending back to Lakeview Road.

Kubie Luchterhand, a member of the town’s economic sustainability committee, said he and town board supervisor Frank Forkert went inside the building on the Johnson property in spring 2011, and they didn’t notice any water damage or musty smell, although he said the well and septic system would need to be inspected and probably renovated.

“I didn’t see anything that would keep a family from wanting to move into it as long as they were willing to fix the outside of the house,” Luchterhand said.

Luchterhand isn’t sure if the building is well suited for use as a visitor center but said it would be possible to sell the structure and have it moved. Then the property could be used as green space with picnic tables, parking, public restrooms and a visitor center.

At the meeting, a motion to consider buying the properties after taking the steps Goss suggested passed 4-1. Goss, Forkert, Lowry and supervisor MaryKay Shumway voted yes and supervisor Robert Tidball voted no. Goss and Tidball indicated they would research the properties.

Liberty Grove residents filled the town hall to offer support, criticism and ideas for the potential property purchase.

Door County North board member Mary Ellen Sisulak said she was hoping a committee of town residents and board members would be formed to look into the purchase.

“I think it is a grassroots movement, and the community would like to be involved in the process,” Sisulak said. “It’s really quite discouraging when the board does not want to involve their constituents in the decision making process for such an important decision to the community.”

Door County North is an organization that markets and represents the businesses in Liberty Grove and advocates for purchasing the Johnson and Czepulonis properties to use as a new visitor center.

While some attendees of the meeting were concerned about costs of the project, many said a new visitor center would help with the town’s need for public restrooms and trash receptacles, provide a space for local artisans to display work and give visitors information about the town.

“Tourists stop for two reasons,” said Jack Moneypenny, president of the Door County Visitor Bureau, who attended the meeting. “They stop to get information and they stop to pee. If you have those two things, you will get a lot of people stopping to see what’s going on in Liberty Grove.”