Land deal gets more time

Friday, February 6, 2009

A Marshall County property owner has extended an option for Lewisburg's pending purchase of land adjoining the Business Park to permit more time for negotiations with a man with a right of way easement across land sought for an undetermined business that might employ people here.

That development was revealed Wednesday evening during a special called meeting of the Lewisburg City Council when Realtor Jim Rickman reported what Ralph Harder was willing to do to keep the deal alive. The purchase option he sold for about 46 acres expired yesterday. The Council conferred with Jack Webb in City Hall and left him with a decision to make about his right of way before the regular session on Tuesday.

The city is willing to buy the 46 acres for about $225,000, but not without clearance of Webb's right of way because that would make the land worthless for industrial development, according to recurring remarks at now the fourth public session as leaders say they want to have a larger tract of land to help attract new employers.

Various other routes have been offered to give Webb access to a tract of land he owns on the north side of the business park that fronts Mooresville Highway. His ancestral home is on the east side and he's opposed development of the park since the plan was announced years ago. Now, there are two new employers there, both opening in the past two years.

Webb has sought city land in exchange for the right of way on Harder's property.

Four acres were mentioned as a suitable tract of land that could become a visual and noise screen between Webb's family home and the business park. That acreage has been described in increasing amounts: to eight acres, then 10, and now 13 acres.

"I think a majority of the councilmen have a problem with more than eight acres," City Manager Eddie Fuller said Thursday morning, qualifying his comment as just based on his observations during the special meeting Wednesday.

"Webb went up to 13 acres," Fuller said. "I think that's why it stalled, so we're back to negotiations."

Notably absent from special meeting discussion was the idea of the city exercising its power of eminent domain, the power of government to simply take possession of property and then letting the Chancery Court determine its value.

Mayor Bob Phillips noted the city's been receiving legal advice from Bob Binkley, who represents the Industrial Development Board (IDB), and City Attorney Bill Haywood.

The IDB is offering to provide $145,000 toward the purchase of Harder's land. The money is from the sale of a day care center the IDB owned. That sum is in addition to the $5,000 for a purchase option paid by the IDB to Harder that would be applied to the purchase price if the deal is sealed.

The IDB is a separate board, although connected to the municipality. The city would pay $75,000 toward purchase of the Harder property.

Binkley provided the council with an inventory of several methods of satisfying Webb's desire to have separation of the house where he wants to live and the land that the city hopes to sell to an employer.

One solution was eliminated. Current members of the Council can't bind a future Council on issues such as annexation, or de-annexing the land Webb wants for a buffer zone.

Another idea eliminated was to rent the buffer zone to Webb for $1 a year, but while that would leave the land as public property subject to no real property taxes, there's the obligation to pay lease-hold taxes.

Webb is apparently willing to provide land for a water tank the city wants to install to improve water service in the business park, and with that there would be a right of way granted to the city, according to discussion.

The sticking point continues to be the exchange of the right of way across Harder's land for property to separate the Webb family home from buildings that haven't yet been constructed in the business park.

"Our vote was to let the Council work out the details," IDB Chairman Eddie Wiles told the Council during open discussion at the special Council meeting.

Haywood pointed out that Webb is concerned about restrictive covenants on the land he might get from the city in exchange for the right of way on Harder's land, but Councilwoman Quinn Brandon countered that.

"The problem with the restrictive covenants is that they apply to Autom and U.S. Tank," the businesses established at the business park, Brandon said.

Brandon mentioned using a life estate contract to place the land in Webb's ownership until his death, but Binkley said the deal might have to include heirs who could live 50-60 years thereafter.

Binkley quoted Webb as saying he wants a clear deed to the land and so the attorney suggested the participants in the decision find something that will please all concerned.

"I'm not really in agreement with any of this," Brandon said.

She'd forwarded the idea of using the power of eminent domain last week, but the mayor counseled against that because it breeds ill will among residents.

As discussion exhausted the various alternatives on how to satisfy Webb's desire for privacy at the family home, there seemed to be some agreement on what might have been the deal that afternoon.

The mayor listed options to be available to Webb and called for a motion to get the deal on the table. Councilman Robin Minor made the motion, but there was no second.

Phillips kept the motion available longer than normal, warning that without a second there could be no more discussion or even a vote.

"If I don't get a second, we'll have to let it die and, essentially, not buy the Harder property," Phillips announced.

There was no second.

"Is there any other way we could refine it?" Minor asked.

Councilman Odie Whitehead Jr. established with Brandon that the matter could be brought back up on Tuesday.

"Let Binkley and Webb talk about it," Whitehead said. "Then they can bring it back..."

Webb was present for the later part of the meeting and acknowledged the situation, but he had no comment after the meeting.