The historic Willemsen property once again will be inhabited after the Buellton City Council voted unanimously on June 24 to grant part of the 3,400-square-foot residence to the Buellton Library and lease another portion for conference room rentals and special events such as weddings.
The dairy farm's residence, which overlooks 20 acres of lower acreage and is bordered by the Santa Ynez River and adjacent to River View Park, was previously the home of late dairy farmers Jake and Jeanette Willemsen. The city purchased the property for $2 million in 2020.
City Manager Scott Wolfe projects that the relocation of the library will occur in about a year, after city officials conduct necessary architectural and ADA-accessibility reviews.
Getting to that final decision, however, was not without debate.
Councilman Ed Andrisek, siding with a fellow council member who pulled to lease the entire building to Zaca Center Preschool as a way to address the lack of child care options in town, expressed his commitment to supporting local families.
"Nurseries are the lifeblood of rearing your family," Andrisek said, remembering his own childhood as a military dependent when his father was often out on temporary duty travel, or TDY, which left his mother to shoulder child care responsibilities.
"The military came first," he added.
In response, Wolfe explained that the arrangement wouldn't work fiscally after having previously discussed the idea with the preschool's board of directors.
Wolfe said the board informed city staff that they couldn't afford more than the proposed $2,000 monthly lease offered and that any potential for sharing the space with another occupant was not feasible given the idea was to expand current child care offerings.
Wolfe said it was imperative that the city reach fair market value for the $2 million property in "a reasonable amount of time."
The cash purchase transacted in May 2020 was financed through the city's $11 million reserve fund for the purpose of boosting Buellton's parks and recreation holdings, and has yet to pay for itself.
Councilman Dave King concurred with Wolfe, citing that converting the residence into a preschool would be "a hard road to hoe" give current fair market value was approximately $4,500 per month.
"We'd already be $2,500 short and that's built into a 30-year contract," King said.
King reasoned that the property would be perfect to host weddings or rent as conference space, which would generate income and cover costs associated with housing the city's library in the northside portion of the expansive building.
"The back half is a perfect party house," he said. "It has a kitchen and a fireplace."
He explained that it would require little investment and doors between the two occupants could be locked, allowing for the north-end rooms to comfortably house library operations.
"We can best serve the citizens with the library in one half and generate income to pay for maintenance of the grass and trees," he said.
With agreement from Vice Mayor John Sanchez, Mayor Holly Sierra fielded additional questions from council members before encouraging the group to land on a decision.
"At this point, I just think we've got to do something," Sierra said. "We've had the property for 13 months and I would really like to just move forward."
The property also features a refurbished two-story barn and storage buildings, none of which are being used and must be decided on by the council and city staff at a later date.