City votes to buy pasture for $500K

Friday, March 28, 2008

Lewisburg's city council voted 3-2 on Tuesday to buy the old Murray horse farm pasture for $525,000.

With recently resigned Councilman Elvin White's seat empty, Mayor Bob Phillips broke the 2-2 tie after answering Councilwoman Quinn Brandon's question about the 48 acres between Rock Creek Park and the city water plants.

"So, what all do we need this for?" Brandon asked.

In a word, it's the future, according to Phillips who's made it clear he'd rather not have to break a tie vote, but Tuesday he justified the purchase several ways.

"All the flood plain property could be good for us to extend Rock Creek Park," the mayor began, noting there's a bridge across the creek and if the low flatlands aren't used for practice fields, they'd be good for parking during events in the park.

Phillips' second reason was substantiated by Larry Jones, superintendent of the water and wastewater department.

"On the far side" of the old horse pasture, the mayor said, "our water department will have land for an expansion of the sewage treatment plant."

Jones said "somewhere between five to 10 acres" will be needed for the expansion that's already on the drawing board. "We're not going to move several million dollars worth of plant."

Furthermore, Jones asked rhetorically, "If we get locked in (by other development) what do we do?"

The land in between was seen by Phillips as "the good property" which might be sold since there's apparently been some interest in developing more residences near a row of apartments that overlook Rock Creek.

Still, it's for the future, Phillips said.

"There's not any large tract of land within the city," he said of land so close to Lewisburg's public square.

Mayors and council members with "bigger minds" in the future may find an important use for the land, Phillips said, noting recently one resident mentioned the idea of an agriculture center where goats, cattle, horses and dogs might be shown.

He contrasted that idea with the big Ag-Expo Center in Franklin.

County cooperation in developing such a center could be requested, Phillips responded to Brandon's question about whether the county has indicated such a willingness.

Lewisburg has also participated in joint efforts by providing land. City Manager Eddie Fuller said it was so at the community college campus on South Ellington Parkway and Phillips recalled city assistance for the county library.

"I think it's a place for dreamers of the future," the mayor said. "When I became mayor, I never thought we'd have a goat festival, but ... it's entrenched now."

Brandon said residents have told her they're against the purchase, but Councilman Robin Minor said he's not received calls. Personal contacts on the subject revealed one opponent, he said.

When that opponent was told the purchase wouldn't result in a tax hike, opposition dissolved, Minor said.

"I cannot envision us buying anything that would cause our taxes to go up," the mayor said.

City Treasurer Connie Edde said the only thing the city would lose from the purchase would be interest income on the money held in reserves.

Recreation Center land was to be purchased outright. But interest rates were lower than what the city was earning on deposits at that time, so money was borrowed.

Lewisburg plans to buy the land from reserves.

Citing complaints about the price and opponents who feel "the city doesn't need to get into the real estate business," Brandon voted no.

Minor made the motion to buy the land, explaining that while he doesn't like the price, the purchase won't raise taxes. Councilman Hershel Davis seconded Minor's motion.

Councilman Phil Sanders, who voted no, said drought has allowed people to forget about flooding.

Brandon interjected that she'd not have a problem with the purchase if it weren't for the price.

At $11,000 an acre, the property has had lower prices over the years, but the owner, Roger Ritch, owner of a local building supply store bearing his name, had set a firm price.

Ritch also deals in real estate in Bedford County. He lives in Murfreesboro.

"It was agonizing for all of us," Phillips said. "This way, you can blame it on the mayor."

Sanders countered: "I always wanted to make the mayor break a tie."