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Anna Maria seeks appraisal for six lots

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

Six bank-owned lots at the corner of Pine Avenue and Bay Boulevard in Anna Maria are temporarily being used for a trolley turnaround, Anna Maria City Pier parking and construction staging. The city commission has endorsed the purchase of the lots for an undetermined use. Islander Photos: Lisa Neff

Anna Maria commissioners voted two weeks ago to proceed with purchasing six lots across from the city pier’s north parking lot from Blackhawk Bank of Iowa, but commissioners decided at their July 14 work session to first obtain an appraisal.

Commission Chair Chuck Webb was opposed to paying any price other than the fair market value established by the appraisal, while Commissioners Dale Woodland and Jo Ann Mattick said the city should proceed with the purchase, regardless of what the appraisal shows.

Commissioner John Quam appeared to side with Webb, saying he’s talked to several people who question the need to purchase the lots, and he wants an appraisal before moving ahead.

Blackhawk has offered the six lots to the city at $2.8 million with financing options, including one in which the city makes no payments for two years.

But Webb again suggested the city look into condemning the property and using eminent domain to acquire ownership.

After a lengthy debate, commissioners voted 3-1 to authorize Mayor Mike Selby to contract an appraiser who specializes in barrier-island properties to complete a full appraisal.

Blackhawk has given the city a deadline of Aug. 15 to make a firm commitment to purchase the property and close the transaction by Sept. 29.

Mike Coleman of Pine Avenue Restoration LLC said Blackhawk turned down a $2.5 million cash offer from his company, so it’s not likely the bank will lower its $2.8 million asking price.

Attorney Mickey Palmer, a specialist in eminent domain procedures, presented commissioners with a brief explanation of what eminent domain involves. In all scenarios, the city would have to pay reasonable attorney fees for itself and the property owners, in addition to the costs of any expert witnesses, even if the city declined to purchase the property after going through the proceedings, he said.

Palmer also said the city had to have a specific need for the property, such as a public park, before it could enter into legal proceedings to acquire the lots.

He declined to suggest a course of action for the city after Coleman asked him if the city should go to eminent domain or take the Blackhawk offer. Coleman said he thought using eminent domain to acquire the lots would end up costing the city around $2.8 million, the same as the asking price.

“That’s up to the commission to decide,” Palmer said.

Palmer said if the city took the land by eminent domain, it would have to have funds for the final purchase price deposited with the court within 20 days of a final order or lose the property.

Woodland and Mattick said they were opposed to using eminent domain to acquire the property.

Woodland said it makes more sense to take the Blackhawk offer and spend the next two years arranging a public-private partnership to obtain at least 50 percent of the purchase price. He did not think the city needed 20 years to pay off a mortgage.

If he didn’t believe a partnership would work, he would oppose the purchase, he said.

But the city has not established a use for the property and Webb said he couldn’t support buying the lots just to prevent development.

“To me, that’s not a reasonable use of city funds,” he said.

Palmer agreed. Using eminent domain to stop construction of dwellings is not a legitimate reason for condemnation.

Woodland countered that eventually the city will have to replace the humpback bridge on North Bay Boulevard and it will need right of way to extend the approach. That’s one reason to acquire the property, he said.

Webb also said his best estimate of the fair market value of the land is about $2.4 million at a maximum, and probably closer to $2.2 million.

In any event, Webb said, anyone buying any or all of the six lots would first acquire a professional appraisal.

Woodland, however, was concerned that the commission had “slid back” on a purchase.

“We need to move on the information we have. We had this discussion two weeks ago,” he said.

The commissioner said he hoped a large number of the public would attend the commission’s July 28 meeting, where a formal vote to purchase the property under one of the various terms Blackhawk offered could take place.

Quam agreed with getting an appraisal before signing any purchase agreement.

“I agree we should purchase the lots, but we’re moving too fast. We should think this through and possibly negotiate a better price. Look at all aspects before we jump in, and we should start with an appraisal.”

Quam also wanted the city to establish a use for the property before any purchase.

Both Webb and Quam said they still favor buying the property, but only at the right price.

“Politics is the art of compromise,” Webb said. “So, let’s all think how we can compromise on this issue.”

Selby said he had an appraiser ready to begin the process and hoped to have the final document ready by the July 28 commission meeting.

In other business, the commission heard a presentation from Drew Smith of Two Trails Consultants about becoming a certified green city.

He said his company is certified to give green ratings and could guide the city through the process and there would be no charge to the city.

Based upon green energy techniques employed by PAR and Mike and Lizzie Vann Thrasher at the Anna Maria Historic Green Village, Smith said he believed the city already has achieved one level of green certification.

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