Mitchell resident sounds off on city's decision to rent Kelley house for wedding event

·5 min read

Jul. 15—After recently noticing a crowd of people gathered at the former Kelley house a couple miles west of Lake Mitchell, a nearby resident is concerned the residence is becoming a "party house."

During the public input portion during a Mitchell City Council meeting on July 6, Jeff Harris addressed his concerns about a gathering that took place at the $3.5 million home that's for sale.

"I have a big problem with the city renting that out, because for one it's not zoned commercial, it's for residential," Harris said during the July 6 council meeting. "It's a beautiful home that (the late) Harvey Kelley built, and the tile floor is imported from Italy. If something gets spilled or stains the tile floor, you can't just go to Menard's and buy it. I'm pretty disappointed in the actions out there."

While the city owns the former Kelley house, it's been listed for sale since January. As the home that's equipped with a retractable roof, heated patios and large pond in the front yard sits empty, Mayor Bob Everson said renting the house out for a wedding reception was one way to bring in some revenue for the lake restoration efforts and keep the property in use for insurance purposes while the house awaits a hopeful buyer.

"The property is sitting vacant, and one issue we have is that failure to use it for anything takes the insurance off. In other words, we can't insure it if it's not being utilized in some fashion," Everson said. "Why not see what else can happen with the property? We own the property, and we know it may take a while to sell, so I asked the Parks and Recreation director about utilizing it for some sort of rental."

The house came with the city's purchase of 371 acres of land along Firesteel Creek, roughly 2 miles west of the lake, which is where the city is inching closer to beginning the construction of a wetland dam. The wetland will serve as a filtration system to greatly reduce the phosphorus and sediment that flows into the lake through Firesteel Creek, which will ultimately improve the lake's algae woes and poor water quality that's been an ongoing problem at the city-owned body of water for several decades.

With the city's goal of restoring Lake Mitchell through the wetland and a potential dredging project, Everson said some of the revenue that came from the recent rental of the home for a night will be earmarked for funding lake improvement efforts and offsetting the costs of maintaining the home as it sits on the market.

"That revenue will be used to help with the expenses we are incurring while the property is for sale, and we will earmark the rest of that for the lake improvements we are working on right now," Everson said.

While Everson said the recent event that was held at the home was more of a trial run, there's been discussions among the Parks and Recreation Department — which maintains the property — on opening the house up for people to rent on a regular basis.

However, it's yet to be determined if the home will become a rentable space for gatherings and events. In addition, Everson said city employees need to consult with the council on determining a price to rent the home, as well as seeking the council's stance on whether they support the idea in general.

"If the idea to open it up for rent is something everyone is on board with, I would propose a fair market price, plus the professional cleaning fee," Everson said.

For the recent wedding reception, the cost to rent the home for the night was $500, plus the professional cleaning fees that the respective renter was responsible for arranging. According to Everson, the trial run went well and the respective group abided by the terms the Parks and Recreation Department set to rent it. But he acknowledged there were some residents in the community who were unhappy with the situation, adding he "didn't have any ill intentions" with renting the home for a night to see if it would be a revenue stream to help the lake improvement efforts.

Everon said the home does not have any furniture inside or cooking supplies. Therefore, if an interested party would rent the home, he said furniture would be rented and any food would have to be catered so the city wouldn't incur any costs.

"Are we trying to take money away from other local venues? No. We were told most venues were booked for the summer in Mitchell, and I thought it would be good to keep an event local and help local businesses for catering and furniture rentals," Everson said.

The idea of renting the home out isn't sitting well with Harris, who lives near the former Kelley property, calling it "not a good choice." Harris said he doesn't want to live near a $4 million "party house."

"Next thing you know someone will rent it out to a keg party. What are you going to have to sell after somebody starts destroying the place?" Harris asked the council. "It's not a good choice. We don't want it to be a $4 million party house. I hope you can sell it to somebody for residential use because we don't want it to be a party house."

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