Easements sought to help business park

Friday, January 23, 2009

Lewisburg leaders are trying to expand the Business Park on Mooresville Highway so they can attract businesses that will provide more jobs here, officials said this week.

"When the big companies come in," Lewisburg Industrial Development Director Terry Wallace told the leaders on Tuesday evening, "you have to have something big to show them."

However, to expand the park, a couple of right of way and access issues must be resolved and Mayor Bob Phillips says he's exploring a land owner's willingness to swap easements for land owned by the city.

The land deal was discussed during a non-voting workshop meeting of the Industrial Development Board and the City Council. Phillips left with a consensus of the leaders. IDB officials might eventually recommend the results of Phillips' discussions with the landowner and subsequently, the Council might seal the deal before Feb. 5 when a purchase option expires.

City leaders see these steps as necessary before 46 acres should be purchased from Ralph Harder for expansion of the Business Park. The right of way across Harder's land makes it unusable as a prospective business location.

The right of way easement on Harder's property is owned by Jack Webb and it leads to land Webb owns on the north side of the industrial park. Webb's home is east of the Business Park. Officials believe he may be interested in owning land that's in the Business Park -- land that could block the view of businesses from his home, according to discussion at the Tuesday gathering in City Hall.

Phillips has told Webb that city leaders might give him four acres, some of which is wooded, the mayor said Wednesday afternoon. In exchange, the city wants Webb to release an easement across land the city wants to buy.

In addition, the city would provide a replacement easement for access to Webb's land north of the Business Park where the city wants Webb to provide access along property lines to where a water tower might be built on land at the end of what would become a utility road.

"We'll just have to wait and see," Phillips said of his conversation with Webb.

The price mentioned during Tuesday's session for Harder's 46.2 acres was $4,700 per acre, or a total of $217,140, although release of land to Webb increases the cost. The city has a purchase option on Harder's land. The option expires Feb. 5.

"The Harder property is needed for the expansion of the park and it's equally important to get across land to the (prospective location for a water) tank," Phillips told members of the Council and the IDB.

"I tried to think like I would," the mayor continued. "I'd like the money" for the access.

However, he continued, Webb is more interested in "the green part" of the city's land in the Business Park

Lewisburg Water and Wastewater Superintendent Kenneth Carr attended the session and reported the logical place for a water tower for the Business Park is on Webb's property north of the park.

Ownership of about an acre for the water tank is implied in the land swap and it's indicated on a map distributed at City Hall.

Examination of land records reveals property in the proposed deal was purchased at much lower costs several years ago, and so Councilwoman Quinn Brandon challenged the overall plan as expensive.

IDB Chairman Eddie Wiles replied that land was bought before the Business Park was developed and circumstances have changed. "Be prepared to pay more" later for the same land if he deal isn't closed now, he said.

The mayor cautioned against using the city's power of eminent domain, a Constitutional taking of property when payment is made in accordance with a price established, if necessary, through litigation.

"It's not about being nice," Brandon told Phillips. "It's a business deal."

The mayor replied that he paid $35,000 for his house, but he wants more for it if and when he sells.

Brandon noted the deal would greatly benefit the private land owners such as Webb, but Phillips said Webb's property east of the park is the family's home place and Wiles added that "They opposed the park from the beginning."

Brandon countered, "We all get neighbors we don't like."

However, Phillips said, use of the government power of eminent domain "puts a bad taste in some people's minds. They don't like it." It leads to suspicion that their land will be taken, also.

Condemnation, according to Bob Binkley, counsel for the IDB, for a 20-foot easement may get access to a water tower site, but access across Harder's property to Webb's tract north of the park can't be taken.

Phillips was open about the fact that he plays tennis with Webb and complimented the man on how fair he is when calling a ball on or off the court.

"Jack is a high principled person," Phillips told city leaders, explaining that can lead to hard bargaining.

Another workshop for the Council and IDB is set for Tuesday and if negotiations proceed as hoped, then the IDB will meet on Wednesday so a recommendation could be made to the Council which would then meet in special session before Feb. 5.

Phillips' discussions with Webb are in what the mayor called an exploratory stage.