City council balks at fire station property purchase

The city would have to pay a homeowner $92,000 to acquire land on the site of its new facility on Court Street.
CLEARWATER — An old house adjacent to the new fire station being built on Court Street has caused consternation among city officials who have been attempting to purchase the property for years.
The house is located at 1140 Brownell St., on the northern edge of the plot where the $11 million firehouse is being constructed.
Construction began on the new fire station in March and is expected to be completed by April.
During a city council workshop on Monday, real estate services coordinator Chuck Lane said the homeowner approached the city earlier this year and offered to sell the property for $92,000. The parcel had been appraised at $55,000 in April, according to Lane.
The wide gap between the property valuation and the homeowner's asking price caused Mayor George Cretekos and other council members to express grave reservations about the potential purchase.
“We made an attempt to purchase the property, and the owner wasn't willing to sell,” Cretekos said. “We had to expend money to design this project without this property in our possession. So now we're coming to offer twice what the appraised value is? I think we would be laughed out of the city if we approved this recommendation.”
In 2011, when the city was in the design phase of the project, it negotiated with the homeowner to buy the parcel. But after the other side suggested a price of $135,000, the city broke off those talks.
Once it became clear the city wouldn't purchase the home, the project went ahead as planned, with the idea that the new station basically would surround the house.
The situation admittedly is not ideal for either side, but officials expressed reluctance to pay so much for the extra land just to placate the property owner now.
With construction underway, the homeowner has approached the city again and offered to sell the home at $92,000.
“Why would anybody negotiate with the city before time if they knew we were going to give them more money a couple years later?” Cretekos asked. “I'm having trouble understanding why we would even do this.”
“This is a difficult decision because it's simply in the wrong place,” Councilman Paul Gibson added. “But at the same time, it's troublesome to be giving someone so much more than the market value of their house.
“They're not helping us out, we're helping them out. I don't like the precedent.”
Lane said if the city did purchase the property, it would provide flexibility when it comes to potential uses of the land.
The purchase, and subsequent demolition, of the home would not only allow the city to gain the 6,200 square feet the house occupies, it also would free up an additional 5,400 square feet of property the city that is adjacent to the house. The city intended to leave the property as green space. However, if the city purchases the home, the city's property could be used for additional parking.
This additional space could be used for parking in the future, according to Lane.
But Cretekos doesn't want additional parking; he wants to avoid overpaying for land.
“You can have too much parking, especially if you don't need it,” he said. “We'll discuss this further on Wednesday.”
The council was scheduled to vote on the proposal during its regular meeting Wednesday night. Results were not available by the Clearwater Gazette's publishing deadline.
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