Smyrna City Council approved a resolution Monday that gives the Smyrna Downtown Development Authority permission to , but not everyone is happy about the decision.
In addition to granting permission to make the purchase, this resolution also allows for the demolition of the partially completed structure at the site. The money to make the purchase and complete the demolition will come from the general fund contingency line. Currently the general fund contingency budget is $750,000 with no expenditures to date.
Charles “Corkey” Welch, Ward 4 council member, said that purchasing this property would not only benefit residents of his ward.
“From my viewpoint this is not a speculative purchase of property,” he said. “It’s something we’re supporting something from a standpoint of looking for the whole Concord Road corridor project that will be used for something that will benefit the citizens of Smyrna.”
A developer began constructing a building on the property before the recession hit Metro Atlanta. The property was foreclosed and is now held by State Bank and Trust. Construction came to a hault and the structure became what Ward 4 Councilman Charles "Corkey" Welch called “an eyesore.”
In 2011 a developer named Burke Lambert with Longstreet Capital asked Smyrna City Council about rezoning the property so that he could build a liquor store on the site. Eric Taylor, Smyrna's city administrator, said Smyrna's community development department expressed to the prospective buyer that the city was unwilling to change its alcohol ordinance regarding the property. The property is currently zoned to allow the sale of beer and wine, but not distilled spirits.
Taylor then suggested that the Downtown Development Authority make an offer on the property. The property was listed for $400,000, but Taylor suggested the DDA offer $250,000, Welch said. The offer was accepted, but on the condition that the deal close in two weeks.
The Council voted to approve the resolution 6-1, with Wade Lnenicka, Ward 6 council member, casting the dissenting vote. During Council committee reports, some citizens in the audience applauded Lnenicka’s comment that he is "philosophically opposed" to the government buying property without an intended use.
“We’re going to spend $250,000 to buy it if its approved and sold,” he said “Then we’ve got the demolition costs on top of that and then we’ve got a dirty hole in the ground basically that no one is going to allow us to maintain in that condition. So then we have to landscape it in some fashion. If we’re going to develop it as a park we’re going to have to hire planners and engineers and spend money to do that. Then we’re going to pay the money to build a park or build whatever we’re going to do with that site. We start with $250,000 and where we end up I don’t know.”
There was some discussion outside the meeting of turning the site into a park, he said. Lnenicka went on to say that there have been several meetings about the future of the Concord Road corridor in the last decade, but mention of a park at that location was never made.
“I know it’s a good opportunity, but the DDA has not met to discuss this purchase, assuming they decide to move forward with it,” he said. “It’s a great buy and it probably is a great price on that property, but it’s a great buy only if you need to buy what’s being offered. And I’m not sure that we have an identified need. I think that we have a great buy in search of a plan to make it great.”
Two citizens spoke out against the resolution during citizen input, both regular speakers at council meetings. Alex Backry, , was critical of the proposed purchase. He also complained that the citizens should have been allowed to speak on the matter before the Council took a vote.
“You can’t speculate with citizens’ taxpayer money,” he said. “That’s an unnecessary risk (…) Government shouldn’t be in the business of buying property and real estate, especially in this recession. And for the council here not to let us give our viewpoint on it, again we have the right. It’s our money. I don’t understand why we didn’t at least table it for two weeks to think about it.”
Mary Kirkendoll is a resident of Smyrna Heights. She has spoken out several times during citizen input and in .
“(The property) is an eyesore, there are a lot of eyesores here in Smyrna, but these types of purchases should be left to the private sector,” she said. “Keep out of our pockets.”
Several council members spoke in support of the resolution. Ward 1 City Council Member Melleny Pritchett is also a real estate agent.
“This property is currently appraised at $796,000 on the tax roll,” Pritchett said. “It was foreclosed on and it was listed for $450,000. We offered $200,000 and they came back with $250,000. This is an opportunity. We’ve had people really upset about Concord Road and how we can’t get anything done and we’ve been very upset about it too, but when the SPLOST runs out of money there’s only so much you can do. So we’re going to be moving forward with that and with keeping with that that particular parcel already has the land set aside for the trail to go through there.
“And by doing this through the DDA, the city has an opportunity that we wouldn’t have if we bought it outright. Because when the city buys it, it’s limited to what you can use it for. You’re not allowed to resell it and if you are it’s very, very specific. So by going with the DDA we have an option to do lots of things. We can keep it and decide we want to do something with it. We can sell it at a profit. So I think it’s a wonderful opportunity.”
The DDA is an entity created by an amendment to the Georgia constitution. Unlike other development authorities in other communities, this gives the DDA some unique powers, said Smyrna City Attorney Scott Cochran.
“The DDA doesn’t have its own budget, which is why the other item on the agenda that talks about moving money from the general fund to the DDA is there,” he said. “It’s an autonomous body, though. It’s got some overlap with mayor and council. The members of the DDA are appointed by mayor and council and actually the mayor sits on the DDA as the chairman, but it is its own authority. So what this resolution today is is kind of a resolution in support of that. But understand that the DDA has its own power—it’s own authority.”
Sean Murphy, a DDA member, told Smyrna-Vinings Patch Monday before the meeting that the body had not yet met to discuss the potential purchase.
Teri Anulewicz is Smyrna’s Ward 3 Council representative. She also chairs the city’s finance committee.
“I just wanted to say one, that I support this purchase wholeheartedly,” she said. “And two that we’re ending the budget year and I think this is an appropriate use of funds from the contingency fund.”
Lnenicka didn’t just oppose the city’s potential purchase of the Concord Road property. He also voted against the award of a contact to Croy Engineering for project management services for Smyrna’s Fire Station No. 5. This item was tabled at the Feb. 20 meeting because some members had more questions. Monday, Council approved the measure 5-1 with Pritchett not voting because she was in the restroom.
“Fire Station No. 5 is basically a slightly altered version of Station No. 3 on Spring Road that we tore down and rebuilt a couple of years ago,” he said. “Our staff handled that without the benefit of a program manager and did a fine job. I just don’t think we need to spend $54,000 more to do what our own staff has already demonstrated they could do on Spring Road. That project came in under budget and ahead of schedule.”
The council approved several other items including an addition to the city’s property maintenance code to allow third parties to perform inspections of multi-family units, an update to the city’s economic incentive program, revision of several personnel policies, and approval of Piedmont Geotechnical Consultants contract for construction materials testing and special inspection services for Fire Station No. 5. Smyrna-Vinings Patch will have more news from Monday’s City Council meeting Wednesday.