City buys land for business park

Friday, February 13, 2009

Even though a right of way issue hasn't been resolved, Lewisburg's City Council voted Tuesday to buy more land for the Business Park on Mooresville Highway.
The city and its Industrial Development Board are buying 46 acres from Ralph Harder for $225,000. The land is on the northwest side of the park and is crossed by an easement for Jack Webb to access land he owns due north of the business park.
Negotiations with Webb have been publicly discussed for a month as city officials have been reluctant to exercise the municipality's power of eminent domain. The Council has the authority to simply vote to take the right of way for the general welfare of the community and let a Chancery Court jury decide what it's worth and /or whether a suitable alternative has been provided.

"It's time for us to make a final decision on the Harder property," Mayor Bob Phillips told the Council when raising the issue for deliberation.

Earnest money would have been lost on Thursday had the Council not acted.

That $5,000 from the Industrial Development Board, plus $145,000 from the Board's sale of a day care center are being combined with $75,000 from the city treasury to pay Harder $225,000.

"This just keeps us from losing the $5,000," Councilman Robin Minor said. "At some point, the right of way will have to be addressed."

Councilwoman Quinn Brandon again noted that the city can use its constitutional power of eminent domain.

"It's clear we can't work something out with Mr. Webb," Brandon said.

Webb's right of way across the Harder property has been seen as an obstacle to development of the land. A building can't be constructed over the right of way if the easement continues to exist.

Bob Binkley, counsel for the development board, said discussions could continue with Webb after the sale is closed. He also outlined alternatives to expand the park with the Harder property even though there's an easement across those 46 acres. They included providing Harder with another access road.

City Industrial Development Director Terry Wallace has explained that when big industrial prospects come looking for a place to build factories with jobs, they're interested in something that's ready to go.

Phillips has expressed reluctance to use the government's power, explaining it is offensive to the general public which becomes suspicious of government.

Noting the development board's offer of $145,000 for the deal, Minor moved to have the city purchase the land.

Councilman Hershel Davis seconded the motion.

Brandon voted no, explaining, "I kind of feel like we're buying a lawsuit, plus we'll have less property tax revenue.

"I'd rather buy it when we need it," she said.

Minor countered: "I don't think the land will get any cheaper."

Councilman Odie Whitehead Jr. voted with Brandon, thereby creating a tie vote of 2-2 that the mayor broke.

"I will vote yes because I think it needs to happen," Phillips said. "And our Industrial Board put a lot of work into it."

Webb was absent from the Council meeting attended by Jim Rickman, sales agent for Harder.