City should buy four acres on Shelby Road
This letter is A Tale of Two City Projects, with apologies to Charles Dickens for such an awful pun.
PROJECT NUMBER ONE:
Poplar Bluff taxpayers deserve a new, purpose-built City Hall. They’ve not had one since 1982, when the city abandoned the long-antiquated red brick structure built in 1902 on the southwest corner of South Broadway and Cedar streets.
After six years of discussion and a roller coaster ride that saw different City Councils change their collective minds no fewer than FOUR TIMES because of citizen outrage over dubious sites near the west edge of town, it now appears that a new City Hall/Municipal Court facility actually might get built in the Downtown area.
If that happens, the overwhelmingly logical site choice is on the property the city ALREADY OWNS between Second Street and the Union Pacific tracks on the west and east and between Elm Street and Pine Boulevard on the north and south. That site would consolidate much of the city and county infrastructure in a contiguous, five-block DOWNTOWN area that also would include the Municipal Library, Justice Center and Butler County Courthouse.
The old City Hall building (formerly the Lucy Lee Hospital/McPheeters Clinic complex) is melting down and demolition will be required anyway for public safety.
PROJECT NUMBER TWO:
Our taxpayers, and our City Police Department, also deserve a new, purpose-built Police Headquarters. It’ s hard to recall when that department actually had an adequate facility. Chief Danny Whiteley and his commanders have made a strong case that locating a new Police Station in the western part of town is a good idea. Most of those reasons already have been explained publicly.
However, what our taxpayers DO NOT deserve is for the City Council to spend more than $1 million to buy 58 acres when only about four acres are needed for a modern Police Station. That proposal is scheduled to be on the Council’s voting agenda next Monday night (Nov. 4). The 58 acres, in the Shelby Road area south of Highway PP, are owned by First Missouri State Bank. City officials have said the property was appraised for nearly $4.5 million when right-of-way was being acquired for the Shelby Road south extension.
The bank is offering the acreage to the city for $1,050,000. That price amounts to $18,103 per acre. The bank might be willing to sell the required four acres, at that rate, for $72,412. The area being considered for a Police Station is on the north side of Shelby in the quarter-mile stretch than runs east and west before curving back south across Roxie Road. That site, immediately behind the Blaich family’s Dental Arts Building, which faces Highway PP, already has been leveled.
Why should the city NOT buy ALL the 58 acres?
At least 23 acres of the land (40 percent) lies in the Pike Creek flood plain and FLOODS. Pike Creek has washed over Highway PP in years past, long before the Oak Grove/Shelby roads developments have substantially increased the stormwater flooding potential. That area is bordered on the south by Roxie Road from Shelby Road east to the Pike Creek bridge
Another approximately 24 acres IS NOT CONTIGUOUS to the rest of the bank’s property. That land lies across Shelby Road, stretching south from that east-west segment of Shelby over deep ravines and steep ridges all the way to Roxie Road. Furthermore, two large communications towers are perched on a high point on that acreage, and a nearby area has been excavated for fill dirt, leaving a precipice along one side.
I certainly don’t fault First Missouri State Bank for trying to sell its property. Officials have described the bank’s offered price as “generous,” considering the reported appraisal. Councilman Steve Davis even called it a “gift.” But common sense tells me that buying the entire 58 acres would be like buying 25 shirts at a good price when you need only a couple.
City Manager Mark Massingham at the Oct. 21 Council meeting recommended the Council buy all the land and then “try to sell off the rest . . . (and) reimburse ourselves for the $1,050,000 . . . to be deposited into (the) general fund.”
Considering the undesirable aspects (flood plain, rugged terrain) of the “surplus” land, and the fact that any future developer will know exactly how much the city paid for it, it’s doubtful the city could even break even by selling it. Even more important, the City of Poplar Bluff has no business getting into the realm of land speculation.
Assuming the Council sticks with their plan to locate the Police Station in the western part of the city, there certainly are plenty of four-acre sites available. Even if the city has to pay $50,000 per acre, which is what the land for the Palace of Praise and the Kindergarten Center cost, that would be only one-fourth the expense of the proposal to be voted on next Monday night.
All those other “possible uses” for the surplus land, mentioned in recent days, obviously have no planning behind them. They were just pure speculation to try and justify the purchase. They included a water tower, green space, fire station, fire “headquarters,” (whatever that is), fire training site, etc., etc.
FINALLY, there’s the issue of whether the city will honor its contract with local architectural firm Dille and Traxel, which has been assisting the city for several years in the ongoing city hall/police station discussions. Apparently the city also has contracted with a St. Louis consulting firm that will charge a fee “not to exceed 5 percent” of the projects’ costs for work seemingly in the purview of the architects, whose services are required by law. The consultant’s fee, which would amount to $700,000 based on 5 percent of a $14 million estimate by City Manager Massingham, would be in addition to the architect fee.
Can you see why the City Council needs to spend TAXPAYER money wisely? Like buying four acres instead of 58. The Council has paid attention to informed and vocal taxpayers before. Maybe a sizeable citizen turnout at next Monday’s Council meeting could get the attention of the free-spending Council majority one more time.