Pelham postpones vote on property purchase

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

The Pelham City Council will hold a special-called meeting at 6 p.m. March 28 to decide if the city will move forward with purchasing about 35.78 acres of land off U.S. 31 for about $7.8 million.

Though the issue was on the council’s March 21 agenda, council members voted 3-2 to table the motion for further review.

Councilman Steve Powell, Councilwoman Karyl Rice and Council President Mike Dickens voted in favor of tabling the motion, and Councilman Bill Meadows and Councilwoman Teresa Nichols voted against tabling it.

The council then again voted 3-2 to hold a special meeting March 28 to vote on the matter. Dickens, Meadows and Nichols voted in favor of holding the special meeting, and Powell and Rice voted against the special meeting.

The votes came after Powell and Rice requested more time to review the land’s purchase contract, which was delivered to council members on March 18, Dickens said.

“I don’t have enough information to make a decision on this right now,” Rice said. “It looks to me like something is being rushed.”

“I have not had an opportunity to review the contract for content,” Powell said.

If the city purchases the land, which includes the Belle Vista mobile home park, it likely would use the property to expand its offerings at Pelham City Park, and could eventually tie the land via sidewalks into the Verizon Wireless Music Center, Pelham Civic Complex and Oak Mountain State Park, Dickens said.

The city also could use the land to one day attract industries and economic development, Meadows said.

“I see this piece of property as a chip or a bargaining piece for the city of Pelham,” Meadows said. “I see the value of this property improving in the future. I see it as something to bargain with.”

“I don’t want people to misunderstand this. This is not about expanding our park. It’s much more than that. It’s a step in a big project. It’s part of the process,” Dickens said, adding he saw the purchase as a step in the city’s comprehensive plan, which was drafted in 2003.

But Powell and Rice said they had concerns about financing the project, and said they were unaware the city was planning to use the land for economic development.

“Tonight is the first I’ve heard of economic development for that property,” Rice said. “Until that kind of information is shared, I can’t vote on this.

“If we buy this, we are going to have to do a bond issue or draw down on our reserves,” Rice added. “I want to know what the debt will cost the city before I make a decision on this.”

During the more than two-hour meeting, several Pelham residents, the majority of whom said they opposed the city buying the land, addressed the council regarding the matter.

“Is this the city’s long-term goal to purchase property rather than let private industries purchase it?” said Pelham resident Ronnie Green. “Is this property so hot that you couldn’t wait two weeks to vote on it?”

“We’ve already waited two weeks since the first reading, and now we’ve postponed it another week,” Dickens said. “For the past 12 years there has never been a right time to do a project like this. If we keep putting it off, we may have another excuse down the road.”