On the heels of the discovery that owners of property purchased from the city using the “right of first refusal” clause in a lease turned around and sold that property for a $245,000 profit just months later, the Mobile City Council intends to strengthen its policies related to property sales.
A week after councilors will consider entering into a sublease to take over a portion of 650 St. Anthony St., a warehouse the city previously owned but sold to the co-owners of Gulf Coast Ducks, the council’s property sales committee will meet Tuesday, Nov. 5, at 2 p.m., in hopes of finalizing a new city ordinance, Councilman Joel Daves, committee chairman, said.
“I hope we’re going to finish it up,” he said.
The committee has previously met, Daves said, but hit a snag due to changes being requested by council attorney Wanda Cochran. He said the committee, along with Cochran and deputy city attorney Flo Kessler will go line-by-line through the ordinance in order to all get on the same page.
Daves said he is looking for three main concepts in any ordinance that comes out of the committee. He said he wants the ordinance to only apply to property the city owns outright and not to properties tied to federal grants or agencies. In his mind, properties purchased through Community Block Development Grants or other federal programs would not be regulated through this action.
Daves said he wants the ordinance to be uniform and lead to more transparency in the process. He said he would like it to balance a highest available price for a property with what’s in the best interest of nearby residents.
“There has to be a balance,” Daves said. “We might get a higher price for a use that is not fully embraced by nearby residents.”
Councilwoman Bess Rich, who is not on the property sales committee but attended the first meeting, first brought up the issue with 650 St. Anthony St. when the sublease made an initial appearance on a council agenda for the Oct. 22 regular meeting. The administration is asking the council to approve a sublease of more than $300 per month to allow the city to store two Mardi Gras floats in the building. The city stored the floats in the building prior to its sale.
Among the questions Rich has related to the sublease issue, she wants to know why the city said the building was no longer needed for municipal purposes if it, in fact, still was. She said when the council made the initial declaration, which led to the sale, she didn’t know floats were going to be stored there.
“I had no idea the building was utilized,” Rich said.
Before selling 650 St. Anthony St. and the almost block-sized piece of land in downtown, the city used a 3-year-old appraisal to determine the property’s value in addition to allowing it to be sold without being bid out or publicly advertised. Rich said she would like the ordinance to better regulate the way appraisals are handled going forward.
She also suggested possibly forcing the city to put out bids or requests for proposals whenever a city-owned property is sold.
Members of Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration acknowledge some regret for the sale of 650 St. Anthony St., but maintain that the transaction was done according to the law.
“It’s fair to say if you had to do it over again you might do it differently, but … was anything funny happening there, the answer is ‘no,’” city spokesman George Talbot said.
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