The Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted 6-1 on Tuesday to authorize the city attorney to initiate condemnation proceedings to acquire a two-acre piece of property on Rock Springs Road, just off Interstate 26. Alderman Ken Marsh voted against the measure.
Ever since Kingsport began annexing in the Rock Springs community and with the building of John Adams Elementary, city officials began taking a hard look at building a new fire station in the community. The $2 million fire station will be the city’s seventh and be nearly 7,000 square feet — the second-largest station in the city — complete with three bays, a new fire engine, exercise room, police substation and HazMat team.
City Manager John Campbell said the city began looking for property for a new fire station in the fall of 2006 and by January 2007 had a strong feeling for this particular site.
“And it just happened it was up for sale,” Campbell said.
Kingsport obtained an appraisal on the property ($240,000), and the BMA approved buying the property for $330,000 in May 2007. Campbell said the owner, a businessman from Richmond, paid more than $400,000 for the property. Campbell said the property owner agreed to the $330,000 price and even signed a formal agreement to sell the property.
But then something happened, Campbell said.
“Every time we’d come up on a date when we were going to close, he’d back off,” Campbell said, adding this went on for months with city staff not being able to reach the property owner. “As of late January or February 2008, all of a sudden he starts calling the legal department and says he doesn’t want to sell the property.
“I was ready to recommend (condemnation) then since it had already been over a year.”
Campbell said the back-and-forth continued until April when the property owner again talked of selling the property, but a recent letter sent to him went unanswered.
“I said we’ve got to get something built,” Campbell said. Therefore, he recommended condemnation proceedings.
“We try and avoid condemnation if at all possible. We’ve had a real good history of doing that,” Campbell said. “It’s nice to have that authority, but most people I’ve known in any government role, they’re reluctant to use that. It should be guarded and not used unless you really have to.”
Campbell said the next step would be for the city attorney to file court papers for condemnation. If the matter goes to trial, Campbell said worst case for the property owner would be a sale price of $240,000 — the amount of the original appraisal.
“The city is not trying to deny him what our appraisal is. He’ll get that at the very minimum,” Campbell said. “We, in good faith, agreed to give him $330,000, which he agreed to several times, and we’re always open to talking to him one more time to come to some kind of agreement.”