County delays vote on land purchase

Dec. 20, 2012 @ 11:33 PM

With questions arising over the viability of other property that could be used for an industrial park, County Commission split down the middle this week on the issue of whether to pay $7 million to former Commissioner Ken Whaley or delay the decision on buying property until February.

After discussing the issue for more than an hour — longer than all the other items on Monday’s issues combined — the commission voted 13-11 to put off buying land and to ask officials to come back with more information on land they said was not given enough consideration.

The budget committee has been reviewing sites for some time, and came back with a recommendation to buy land that Whaley owns on Snyder Road, on the north side of the county’s only interstate exit.

Commissioner Kent Woods, who sits on the budget committee, said he thinks the property has a major advantage in being near the interstate but in the opposite direction from the route tourists take to reach the county’s attractions.

“If you get off that interstate and come toward Sevierville, all you’re going to hit is traffic,” he said.

The county needs a new park with some large lots and utilities ready to go if it’s going to compete for businesses looking in this area, he said.

Whaley, whose property sits a short distance from the interstate, agreed to an offer of $7.475 million on his 115-acre property and agreed to have it graded to the county’s specifications and include a road bed at no additional cost, according to Allen Newton, director of the Economic Development Council. The land was appraised at $9.42 million, meaning Whaley accepted an offer that was about $2 million lower than the appraised value.

However, some commissioners noted there are other properties they thought deserved more consideration.

The most discussed was a tract behind New Hope Church. Newton had data prepared on that property, and Woods said the budget committee had reviewed it as well.

The site totals about 230 acres and is being offered for about $8.25 million, which is greater than the appraised value of $5.75 million. It also doesn’t have direct access from the Parkway, and several adjacent property owners have indicated they aren’t interested in selling land for a right of way, officials said.

Newton and Woods said those were some of the reasons they preferred the Whaley property. Woods acknowledged he owned some of the property that would be affected, and said he and his family don’t wish to sell or have the road cut through their land.

While other commissioners said they believed they could get access to the land through Kyker Ferry Road, Woods said the most optimal route would through farm land his family owns and uses, and he said his family has made it clear they don’t want to sell. Trying to acquire land for that load would result in litigation which would delay the development of an industrial park on that site for years, he said.

Commissioner Jim Keener indicated he had been contacted by the owners of some other properties who wanted the county to consider buying their land.

In at least one case, he acknowledged they’d already contacted Newton and been told their property wasn’t large enough, but he said they told him they had been talking to the owners of adjacent property and, while they didn’t have a new offer as yet, they felt the county should wait to hear whatever new offer they could come up with.

Newton said that property, located on Mount Road, measured out to about 56 acres when his office reviewed it. That was too small for the planned park, he said.

Keener said he was also informed that owners of another piece of property had asked to be considered in the past few days. Those property owners didn’t show up for Monday’s meeting, but he said the county should still consider their offer before making a decision.

Based on the 13-11 vote, Newton will review the properties and bring information on them back at a workshop that will be held before the commission’s February meeting.

Voting in favor of putting off the decision were Ben Clabo, Judy Godfrey, Tim Hurst, Jim Keener, Phil King, Marty Loveday, Bill Oakes, Harold Pitner, Tony Proffitt, Caroll Rauhuff, Tommy Watts, Ronnie Whaley and Randy Williams. Voting against the delay were Ronnie Allen, Fred Atchley, Gene Byrd, Gary Cole, Bryan Delius, Mike Hillard, Warren Hurst, Ray Ogle, Frank Parton, Jimmie Temple and Kent Woods. Commissioner David Norton was absent.

Commissioners are working to keep the total cost of the project below $10 million, which County Mayor Larry Waters said was a figure they reached after consulting with their bond advisor.

Once the cost of development is included, both the Whaley property and the property behind New Hope would exceed that number, but Newton said they would be eligible for grants that could bring them back in line.

jfarrell@themountainpress.com