Business Park land deal sent to City Council

Friday, January 30, 2009

Lewisburg's Industrial Development Board is recommending that the City Council buy more land for the Business Park on Mooresville Highway and the Board is willing to pay $150,000 of the $225,000 purchase price.

"I'll carry the ball for you," Councilman Robin Minor told IDB Chairman Eddie Wiles after the Board met in City Hall on Tuesday when the land deal was recommended for approval by the Council in a special-called meeting next Wednesday afternoon.

Minor isn't a member of the IDB but he attended because, "I wanted to see if we'd get $150,000" toward the purchase of the property, the councilman said.

The $150,000 is from the IDB's sale of Little Tykes Day Care on West Ellington Parkway, a property the Board received from Kantus years ago. Maintenance issues arose from the business renting the property and that led to the sale last fall.

Now, city leaders want to expand the Lewisburg Business Park on the north side of Mooresville Highway by purchasing 47.45 acres from Ralph Harder who's been represented by Realtor Jim Rickman at meetings of the IDB and the Council.

Harder's property is on the northwest side of the park, but it has a right of way easement for Jack Webb, so Webb can get to a tract of land he owns on the north side of the park.

Webb was at a joint workshop of the Council and IDB last week when he said he wants to live the rest of his life as a resident of his grandfather's home-place on the east side of the Business Park. He's willing to reach an agreement with the city, but wants a sound and sight barrier between the family home and the business park. In exchange he would accept a replacement easement for the one across Harder's property and cooperate with Lewisburg's Water and Wastewater Department so a water tank could be built on the tract of land north of the park. The tank is needed to improve water pressure and supply in the park.

Those details are being left to the Council and other leaders of the city, according to discussion Wednesday in City Hall when the IDB voted on a motion by Board member Jackie Abernathy and seconded by Jim Weaver.

Abernathy's motion followed a request from IDB Chairman Eddie Wiles.

"We want this property bought and these easements removed, in my opinion," Wiles said as he respected other IDB members who have a vote on the panel's business.

Details on how the easements should be resolved and how Harder's desire for a more secluded home-place is secured are issues for elected leaders of the city, Wiles said.

Various alternatives had been discussed at length last week. They include: a life estate for Webb; his agreement to provide the city with the right of first refusal to buy the buffer zone back from Webb, and; variations on such contracts. The IDB's counsel, Bob Binkley, recommended discussion be suspended on the several ideas on Jan. 27 so Webb could consider his options, and Webb returned to City Hall for the IDB meeting Wednesday when the Board deferred the easements issue to the Council.

There are other issues surrounding the deal.

"If we don't get this worked out," Wiles said, "we can't grow (the park) to the north."

Discussion during the joint IDB-Council meeting on Jan. 27 indicated city leaders had looked around for ways to expand the park. One idea discussed briefly was acquisition of property on the other side of Mooresville Highway, presumably due south of Veterans Parkway, the road into the park.

Expansion of the park is seen as necessary for the city's ability to attract corporations that would bring new jobs to the community. City Industrial Development Director Terry Wallace, Mayor Bob Phillips and others have said so. A recurring example is Sanford's decision to built an ink plant at Manchester instead of manufacturing ink here. While that Coffee County community's willingness to give land to Sanford at no cost to the company is reportedly the deciding factor, Wallace and Wiles have emphasized that when corporations examine a new site, they frequently want large tracts of land.

"We don't have a lot of financial needs," Wiles told the IDB about the panel's cost of operations -- contrasting that with the $150,000 it received from the sale of the day care property.

Abernathy moved to recommend the city's purchase of the Harder property and provide the $150,000 toward the purchase price, "if the city can work out the details" of the easements and Webb's desire for privacy at the family home-place.

The vote was unanimous.

The city has spent $5,000 on a purchase option for the land and that goes toward the $225,000 price, according to Rickman and City Manager Eddie Fuller.

However, another option was purchased to extend that opportunity and the price for more time was $2,500. Various other costs were briefly mentioned during the Wednesday meeting. They include environmental evaluations for information on topography and drainage. A $3,000 figure for that was mentioned.

During the Jan. 27 non-voting joint meeting of the Council and its IDB, Councilwoman Quinn Brandon resisted proposals that might eventually result in the city buying land from Webb, or his estate -- land that might be given to Webb to create the privacy buffer.

She described that as the city buying the same property twice with the second purchase following the city's swap of land to Webb in exchange for rights of way. Countering that were several other leaders who explained Webb is entitled to access land north of the park and, if that's not cleared, the Harder property isn't worth buying.

The mayor has found a way for Webb's access on the east side of the park, according to the city manager. With that, and the Harder property, the park could be expanded further north and west, officials said.

With the $150,000 offer to help with the purchase and a recommendation to buy Harder's tract, the matter goes to the Council which meets at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

"OK, Robin," Wiles told the councilman, "we've done our thing."

Minor replied, "I have just one vote (on the Council), but I'll do all I can."