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To sell or not to sell?

January 3, 2020

The Webster City City Council will be holding a public hearing during its regular meeting at City Hall on Monday night at 6 p.m. The public hearing will address a proposal by commercial developer, The Overland Group, to purchase city-owned property at 1100 Superior St.

The city-owned property at 1100 Superior St. is currently occupied by East and West Twin parks.

About two months ago, The Overland Group approached the city of Webster City with an offer to purchase part of the property to construct a new Dollar General store, said City Manager Jeff Sheridan. The part of the property that The Overland Group would like to purchase is the northernmost 1.25 acres of East Twin Park.

The city council held a special meeting on Dec. 31, 2019, to set the public hearing for Monday night. During the hearing, members of the public will have the opportunity to voice their opinions, concerns, thoughts and questions about the topic.

The city also released a press release on Thursday to provide the community with further information on the proposal.

According to the release, the city offered other city-owned properties and vacant commercial sites as alternatives for the development, all of which were declined by the developer.

“This was not taken lightly by staff,” Sheridan said. “We really took a look at it and tried to look at the different options. We talked for quite a long time trying to get them to be interested in a different site.”

The developers told the city the East Twin Park site was the “right location” for their development project as it provides enough land and allows the business to stay on Superior Street. The current Dollar General store is located in a leased building at 814 Superior St. The developers want to build a newer and bigger store at the 1100 Superior St. site.

Under the purchase agreement – which has yet to be signed-off on by the city council – The Overland Group would purchase 1.25 acres of East Twin Park for $199,000.

According to the Hamilton County Assessor’s website, the total land value of East Twin Park and West Twin Park is $411,650 for 4.29 acres of land and the additions to the land like the basketball court, the skateboard park, the park shelter, etc. This means, according to the assessor, the property at 1100 Superior St. is worth approximately $95,955.71 per acre, or $119,944.64 for 1.25 acres.

In addition to the purchase agreement, the city has drawn up a development agreement stipulating that “it’s got to be nicer, the look of the building, the materials used to build the building,” Sheridan said.

“We also negotiated a purchase amount that was significantly higher than the initial offer and above the per-acre rate for a typical commercial greenfield parcel,” the press release stated. “It is important to note that the city is not offering any financial incentives toward this project. Instead, the city expects, should this development proceed, to use the tax increment financing revenue generated to reinvest in the city’s assets, including downtown revitalization and park improvements.”

City council member Logan Welch received a lot of online feedback when the public hearing was announced and rumors about the project emerged earlier this week and he understands the concerns some members of the public have raised.

“I completely understand the emotional side of this,” he said. “I have memories of that park – I was born and raised here and I played with my friends there, I’ve taken my kids there, it’s got memories. I totally get it.”

Welch added that he supports the purchase offer for the land as the offer is “way above the value of the land” and that the city will then be able to levy property taxes on the land, as well as collect the local option sales tax from sales in the store. Right now, as the land is city property, the city does not collect property taxes on it.

“It’s a win-win for the city,” Welch said. “We’re giving up zero dollars. Yes, we’re losing a park, an under-utilized park – and its amenities will be replaced if it does move forward.”

The city is already actively looking for locations to relocate the park’s amenities like the skateboard park and the basketball court.

“We are committed to ensuring that, should this development proceed, they are reconstructed in a new area as soon as possible and that they remain accessible to the entire community,” the press release said.

Welch said that despite how some residents may feel about how the council has handled this issue, the council has and is doing everything it is supposed to do to give careful thought and consideration to the proposal and do its due diligence before holding a vote on it.

“I don’t want the public to think for one second that anything was hidden, controversial or done out of standard practice for a land deal,” he said. “We’re acting as any local government should and does when given an offer.”

Following the public hearing on Monday night, the city council may choose to vote to accept or decline the offer. It can also choose to table the vote until the next meeting.

Welch will be absent on Monday night due to a prior commitment and if the council were to split in a 2-2 vote on the offer, it would be held off until the next meeting with all five council members in attendance.

Welch said he wants the community to know that the city council is working in the best interests of Webster City when considering this proposal.

“Some may feel that the loss of a park isn’t in the best interests, but in the long run, there will be park amenities better than they are now, more utilized than they are now and better locations than they are now,” he said.

There hasn’t been a written timeline submitted on the project, but Sheridan said after conversation with the developer, if the project moves forward, they expect the building to be constructed this year.

If the city council approves the purchase offer on Monday night, Sheridan said he expects the city will make the remaining 0.75 acre parcel of East Twin Park to be made available for other commercial development projects.

“It doesn’t make sense to try to maintain a park next to that retail site,” he said.

Sheridan also acknowledges the emotional part of this issue, but said that this is a highly uncommon situation where a park has a limited number of amenities that could be more useful in other parks, and is located next to a busy city street in a commercial district.

“This is in a commercial corridor, we need the development, we need the added tax base,” he said. “We’re convinced that if this happens, there’s at least one, if not two, other projects that may follow closely thereafter, that this could be the catalyst for additional development.”

 

View this article as it originally appeared in the Daily Freeman-Journal.

Last modified: January 3, 2020

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