9/09/2004

City Threatens Eminent Domain

By Fred Guarino

The city of Columbiana is attempting to have the Summer Classics property rezoned from light industrial to a retail shopping district. And the city is threatening the use of eminent domain to get the property at what it considers a fair price.

Columbiana Mayor Allan Lowe said the city is in need of public parking for its retail district. He also said the city does not want a manufacturing operation in the heart of downtown.

Toward that end, Lowe said, a public hearing has been set by the city for Monday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. at City Hall to rezone the Summer Classics property from M-1 (light industrial) to B-1 (local retail district).

The city council will also hold its regular Sept. 21 meeting at 7 p.m. on Sept. 20 as well.

Lowe also said he has made a real estate agent representing the property (Henry Seibels) aware of the city's intentions to use its right of eminent domain if the city and the company cannot agree to a price.

Lowe said the City Council has already given him the authority to begin eminent domain procedures if necessary. And he said, the city has taken the first step, which is to make sure their are no liens or encumbrances against the property.

According to Lowe, the city had the entire 4.66 acre Summer Classics site appraised for $320,000. But he said the city only wants three of the total acres for public uses including parking, a small park and a community center for such public use activities as plays, pottery and art classes. He said those three acres should cost the city less than the total appraised value. And he said all of the facilities placed on that property will be for 100 percent public use.

Lowe said Summer Classics is asking $1.1 million for the property which he said is owned by the wife of Summer Classics President Bew White.

Summer Classics representatives did not return repeated phone calls

Lowe said there was such a difference between the city's appraisal of the property and the asking price that he called Seibels to make him "aware" that the "property could be subject to condemnation."

According to the finance office for the Shelby County Commission, the county paid $452,835 for an adjacent 1.68 acres. That land, between East College and Walton streets, is now used for additional courthouse parking.

That property was taken by the county through a condemnation proceeding and was purchased Sept. 1, 2001. The city of Columbiana has erected an electronic display information sign on that property as well.

The county's purchase price amounts to $269,544.64 per acre.

When asked about the county's purchase price, Lowe said he could not comment because he didn't know what basis was used to determine that value.

Lowe said the city's appraisal of the Summer Classics property is a "fair value" based on the sale of "comparable" property in the city.

Lowe announced the city's intentions to rezone the property and to use eminent domain if necessary following a meeting with a Seibels last Thursday.

He said Seibels tried to discourage the city from use of eminent domain and said of that meeting, "It didn't go well."

According to Lowe, the $1.1 million asking price for the Summer Classics property is based on the sale of properties in the Birmingham area. He said he tried to explain to Seibels that Columbiana property is not as valuable as that in Birmingham, Trussville, or even Calera or Chelsea.

"But it was apparent after a few minutes, we would not be able to reach an agreement," he said.

Also according to Lowe, Evan Dorman, representing Summer Classics, first asked if the city would consider taking the property and bearing the expense of debris removal if the company just walked away following the fire that destroyed facilities there.

"I told him we would consider it, but the offer was withdrawn," Lowe said.

Lowe said at a later meeting he asked White and Dorman if the company would consider rezoning the property to retail because it was located right in the heart of downtown Columbiana. He said Dorman went to Columbiana Public Works Director Hilry King to make application for rezoning.

Lowe said Dorman subsequently withdrew that application.

"On behalf of the city and for the good of the city," Lowe said, he requested the city's Planning and Zoning Commission hold a hearing to rezone the property. He said the Commission held the hearing and there was no public opposition.

"No one showed up," Lowe said.

According to a legal notice published in the Reporter, the public hearing on the rezoning request to be held by the city on Sept. 20 will be to receive oral or written comments for or against rezoning the property from M-1 to B-1.

Lowe said the city could not justify acquiring the entire property for city needs. However, the mayor said, once the property is rezoned, residents will be assured there will not be another manufacturing operation in the middle of Columbiana's retail district.

Lowe said he spoke to Seibels to make him aware that the appraisal the city received was "so much less" than the $1.1 million asking price that the property "could be subject to condemnation."

Lowe said the next step would be to get an appraisal by both parties (city and owners) to determine a fair market value.

He said if the parties can't come to an agreement, the matter will go to a board of condemnation to determine an appropriate value.

Lowe said the city has the funds to buy the three acres at a price less than $320,000. He said the city also has funds that could be used in conjunction with grants to build the parking space, the park and the fine arts center.


Shelby County Reporter: www.shelbycountyreporter.com