Colonial Heights council rejects Boulevard land swap with developer
By JAMES PEACEMAKER JR.
Jan 1, 2014, 11:11
COLONIAL HEIGHTS — City Council rejected a proposal that could have opened up a prime location at the southern end of the Boulevard for development.
But the majority of council members said it was a bad deal for the city.
At its regular council meeting in December, council discussed the possibility of a land swap between the city and A+ Properties Inc. The discussion was intended to get council’s input on how to proceed.
The scenario considered by council would have swapped a city-owned 0.752-acre property on the Boulevard on the south side of Archer Avenue with a 50-foot permanent easement across a 4.078-acre property owned by A+ Properties just to the west and $10,000 in cash. The easement would run along the river and would allow the city to complete a key part of the Appomattox River Greenway Trail and have it run all the way to Appamatuck Park.
The discussions with A+ Properties have been ongoing for more than two years with no resolution.
A+ Properties’ preliminary plan calls for 58,000-square-foot, four story general office building.
But there is no schedule for construction, no promise of what will be built, and no guarantee that the developer won’t just resell the property for a profit.
City Manager Tom Mattis said city staff have spent some time negotiating with the developer’s attorneys but he wanted council’s input before taking it further.
“It has taken us quite a while for us to get the terms of that worked out where all of the staff endorse it,” Mattis said.
“He certainly can’t build this project without the city’s land. â€¦ We’re simply ready to move one way or the other,” Mattis said.
“The manager and I wanted to bring it to you to see if it was even worth going through the trouble of a public hearing,” said City Attorney Chip Fisher.
Councilman John Wood noted that there is nothing stipulating that the property must be used for a certain project.
“Once the land is transferred, there is no restriction. He could transfer it to a third party,” he said.
Wood also said that the city doesn’t need A+ Properties’ approval to create the trail through the property and could use eminent domain because it is a public use.
“If I am going to be asked to convey three-quarters of an acre at the intersection of the Martin Luther King Bridge and the Boulevard and Archer Avenue in exchange for a 50-foot right of way and $10,000, I am totally and completely and unalterably opposed to this. I will vote against it at every level,” Wood said.
He said that if A+ Properties was offering to make an even trade of property of the same size, he would consider it, but he said this is an extremely bad deal for the city.
Councilman Milton Freeland agreed, saying it doesn’t make sense to give away three-quarters of an acre of land that is not in the floodplain for a 50-foot right-of-way that is in a protected area. He said virtually nothing can be done on that land except for a trail.
“I don’t think its the best deal for the city,” he said.
Mayor Scott Davis noted however there would be a legal cost in invoking eminent domain.
“Typically, it is my understanding the city has tried to avoid condemnation as common practice. It seems to be a fairly simple solution and an opportunity to support potentially a significant project here,” Mattis said.
He said the city has no plans to use the property. Fisher said the city currently has a stormwater retention pond on the three-quarters of an acre that would be taken over by A+ Properties. He said A+ Properties wants to move the pond away from the Boulevard but would still maintain it.
Councilman Joe Green said he would support the proposal, saying it could benefit everyone.
“If this exchange is made, whether he builds there or sells to somebody else, it makes it more commercially viable for something to be built there to benefit the city, be it residential or business. â€¦ I realize we’ll lose a little money, but we’re improving the opportunity we have to make money long term to benefit the city,” he said.
Councilman Kenny Frenier initially said that with the cost of eminent domain, this deal might be the better option to get the trail completed.
“It is a lot better deal us swapping land and getting $10,000 than carrying into litigation and spending taxpayer money for something there won’t be any return for,” he said.
But Freeland said that while the trail doesn’t connect directly to Appamatuck Park, there is nothing to prevent people from walking the short distance down Archer Avenue to the park.
He also said there was a large power line running directly through the property.
“So this is not the most attractive piece of property to begin with,” he said.
Davis said that giving up control of the property could lead to a business that is not wanted.
“If we sell it, it could be to the detriment of the city,” he said.
“Just what we need. Another check-cashing business right on the Boulevard,” he said.
Wood said this is one of the few pieces the city has control over and it needs to make sure that control is used responsibly.
At the end of the discussion, Freeland, Frenier, Wood and Davis opposed the deal while Green and Councilwoman Diane Yates supported it. Councilman Greg Kochuba abstained, saying he was not involved in the previous discussions.
Although it was not an official vote by council, it did send the message to city staff that they were not interested in the deal with the developer. Discussions like this involving land negotiations typically happen in closed meetings, but Davis explained that since this was made public at a meeting in the past, the discussion could not longer take place in closed session.