June 27, 2014 at 7:21 pm

Peters uses vacant site of opponent's childhood home to tout economic development program

Rep. Gary Peters held a press conference in the middle of a vacant lot that once was home to a sprawling trailer park that Terri Lynn Land's family business closed in 2004 after giving 170 residents one-year's notice to leave. (Dale G. Young / The Detroit News)

Grandville — U.S. Rep. Gary Peters on Friday used the weed-choked barren site of his Republican Senate opponent’s childhood home in suburban Grand Rapids to try to illustrate the need for maintaining taxpayer subsidies for economic development in low-income communities.

Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, held a press conference in the middle of a vacant lot that once was home to a sprawling trailer park that Terri Lynn Land’s family business closed in 2004 after giving 170 residents one-year’s notice to leave.

Standing near a “No Trespassing” sign, Peters criticized the Land family for evicting the residents and then letting the land sit vacant for a decade.

“Certainly the taxpayers of the state of Michigan, the voters of the state of Michigan, don’t want to have empty lots as economic development,” Peters said.

Peters said his “main reason” for choosing the Land family site was to push for renewal of the New Markets Tax Credits, an economic development federal subsidy program set to expire at year’s end that is aimed primarily at low-income communities.

The three-term Democratic congressman said his promotion of the tax credit program was a “contrast” with “Terri Land’s record and her family business, which is basically ask people to move out and leave a lot vacant for 10 years.”

Land & Co., a real estate company in which Land’s father and husband are partners, gave residents one year’s notice and offered to pay for their relocation expenses, including free rent during the transition period.

But the Grand Rapids-based company hasn’t redeveloped the site because of the economic downturn and lack of demand for new residential property, company spokesman John Truscott said.

“They’ve been aggressively marketing this property for a while, but there was just no takers,” said Truscott, a Lansing public relations executive.

But in the past month, Land & Co. has begun working with Grandville city officials on a new plan to redevelop the site with a mix of commercial and residential use, Truscott said.

Truscott, a Republican political consultant, questioned the wisdom of Peters holding a press conference promoting “corporate welfare” in conservative west Michigan.

“Land & Co. isn’t requesting any government assistance,” Truscott told The Detroit News. “They’re doing this all on their own.”

Terri Lynn Land, a former secretary of state from Byron Center, has denied having any involvement in the family’s business decision to close the LaGrande Mobile Home Park where she grew up. Her husband, Dan Hibma, is listed in public records as the registered agent for a Land & Co. subsidiary that owns the land.

On the campaign trail, Land also has touted growing up in the trailer park and helping her grandparents operate a small motel as a child, teenager and for two years after graduating from college.

“This property has become a part of the campaign because Terri Land talked about this property,” Peters told reporters.

The New Markets Tax Credit program has been credited for helping spur redevelopment projects in Grand Rapids and Detroit.

“It brings in new investment into areas … that have very high unemployment, low income and you tend not to get any investment in those areas without the New Market Tax Credit,” Peters said.

Peters could not say whether the Grandville site would qualify for taxpayer assistance or not.

Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for Land’s Senate campaign, said Friday that Peters “refuses to talk about creating jobs and lowering taxes for families so they can keep their homes and climb the ladder of opportunity.”

“Instead, Congressman Gary Peters is more concerned with scoring political points by attacking Terri’s family,” Swift said in a statement.

Grandville Mayor Steve Maas, a longtime friend of the Land family, on Friday defended the company’s track record as an owner of apartment complexes in the Grand Rapids area.

A half-hour before Peters’ 10:30 a.m. press conference, Maas said he met with Land’s brother-in-law, Roger Lucas, at the Grandville City Hall to review conceptual plans for construction of retail and residential space on the site.

Lucas approached the Grandville planning commission on June 4 about the company’s latest redevelopment plans, Maas said.

“It looks like it’s on its way to redevelopment,” Maas told The News.

Kevin McAlister, a senior communications adviser for the Michigan Democratic Party, questioned the timing of Land & Co.’s new plans to redevelop the site after Peters first drew attention to the vacant lot in May.

“After letting her property sit vacant for nearly a decade since she evicted 170 families, it’s sad it took pressure from Land’s opponent to get even hollow rhetoric and a cheap political stunt about this vacant lot,” McAlister said in a statement.