City to agency — OK to condemn: Henry (County GA) Herald, 8/14/05

By Michael Davis

If they won't sell, condemn. That's the message the city of Stockbridge sent to its appointed Urban Redevelopment Agency this week.

The agency has been struggling over the last several weeks to negotiate with several property owners within the so-called urban redevelopment district over the sale of their property to the city. City leaders want to buy up about 22 acres declared in need of redevelopment along East Atlanta Road near North Henry Boulevard for a new city hall, parking deck and a municipal lawn. They say the city's investment in the area will spur other development and revitalize the ailing retail district.

But while some property owners in the area were relieved by a city decision Monday to allow the redevelopment agency to exercise purchase options, those without options were threatened with condemnation.

Portions of the property bought up by the city would be turned over to private developers the city would require to build two- and three-story mixed use buildings along East Atlanta Road and elsewhere. The entire tract would be developed according to an as-yet unwritten master development plan. Some of the proposed buildings would include retail establishments on the ground floor, offices on the second and residences on the third.

City officials liken it to projects in Smyrna and Duluth, efforts to redefine the each city's downtown areas.

Stockbridge leaders are now promising that portions condemned through the power of eminent domain would be used for the city hall project, not sold to developers, even if it means redesigning the plan.

"What we were asking for ... was to exercise condemnation for the municipal building, not for private enterprise," said Jim Butcher, a real estate broker and chairman of the city's Urban Redevelopment Agency.

The agency has been in negotiations with several property owners, including florists Mark and Regina Meeks who run a flower shop on North Henry Boulevard that the city is seeking to acquire, for about two years. The city has already condemned at least one property on Burke Street, paying $63,000 of a $280,000 asking price, it said last month.

Butcher said a city-hired liaison, whose charge was to secure purchase options on the roughly 20 tracts in the redevelopment area, worked on commission and sometimes inflated prices above what the city was really willing to pay. "A person that was doing that was commission-driven and she gave out some really high figures for the property and the appraisals didn't justify it," Butcher said.

The agency was also given the go-ahead this week to examine the acquisition of property on the west side of the railroad tracks bordering the existing urban redevelopment area, an area along Burke Street. "We're going to look at the redevelopment plans, and some other areas in Stockbridge," Butcher said.

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