Plans being drawn for new Mount Carmel community center

Jeff Bobo • Mar 3, 2017 at 2:37 PM

MOUNT CARMEL — An engineer will put preliminary plans and cost estimates on paper before the Mount Carmel Board of Mayor and Aldermen takes any action toward purchasing two residential properties needed for a proposed new community center at the City Park.

City Administrator Gary Lawson told the BMA Tuesday that he will ask the city engineer to put the plans and cost estimate on the fast track.

Mayor Chris Jones told the BMA Tuesday if it is interested in developing a community center at the park, the city will first have to purchase two residential properties on Maple Street.

One house is already listed for sale, and Jones said he spoke to the owner of the other property, who expressed interest in selling it for the community center development.

Jones suggested that the board appoint a committee to enter into negotiations with both property owners to acquire the property.

However, Alderman Margaret Christian told the board she wasn’t prepared to discuss purchasing property until she sees what the community center will look like and how much it will cost.

And then there’s the question of how the city will pay for the project.

Christian’s motion authorizing town engineer Matthew Lane to draw up preliminary plans and cost estimates for the project was approved 6-0. Lawson will also provide the board with a list of potential funding sources.

Lawson noted that there’s potential grant funding that could cover 40 percent of the cost, assuming the project meets certain requirements.

Jones said he’d like to include a new library and senior center in the project, and Lawson noted that those additions would bode well for the grant application.

Lawson said the Tennessee Municipal League is also offering low interest loan programs through the state for this type of project.

“First, you’ve got to purchase the property,” Lawson told the board. “Then you apply for grants, and grants can take over a year to get in and approved. The location is ideal, right there near the park and near the walking trail. It’s the best use for that property.”

However, the project is contingent on acquiring the property. If the preliminary plans and cost estimates take two months to complete, Jones said he’s not sure the property will still be available.

“It’s something we need to act on relatively quickly because it is up for sale,” Jones added. “... In order to apply for a grant, we need the property first.”

Christian added in her motion that the engineering plans and Lawson’s report be completed “in a timely manner.”

If a special called meeting is needed to move the project forward before the March BMA meeting, Christian said that could be scheduled as well.

Jones’ vision for the community center includes an area for a new senior center, a new library, public meeting rooms and a gymnasium.

“It would be something that will benefit everyone in this community,” Jones said. “These two pieces of property, we’ve already spoke with one homeowner’s family, and they are willing to go into negotiations with us and sell us that property for the purpose of a community center. I’ve also spoke with another gentleman, and he would be willing to sell that property that’s currently up for sale to the town for the purpose of putting a community center on it.

“It would also benefit us as far as storage. One of the houses there is a really nice house that we might also keep some equipment in. It’s got a two-bay garage. (Public works director) Jason Salyers mentioned he’s needing an area up there to store several pieces of equipment so he can keep the area around there mowed.”

There was a related item on Tuesday’s agenda regarding a request for the town to vacate the “Pearl Street” right of way which splits the two residential properties being sought for this project.

Pearl Street was dedicated as a right of way more than 60 years ago on a county subdivision platte. When the city was incorporated in 1961, Pearl Street was never dedicated.

There was some hesitation on the part of board members to approve the request to vacate Pearl Street in light of the potential for purchasing the property.

But the property owner who made the request said the city doesn’t have a strong case to keep that right of way, and City Attorney John Pevy agreed.

“Case law would indicate that in order for the town to claim a right on this roadway it would have to take some sort of affirmative action in accepting the dedication,” Pevy told the board Tuesday. “Otherwise you can’t claim that you’ve ever actually had a road there. In all actuality, we don’t have any rights on this street listed on this platte. ...The town couldn’t fight it in a legal battle and say that’s a street because we haven’t done anything to accept it affirmatively as a street.”

Pevy said vacating the right of way was not not going to change the value of the property, nor would it give the owners any rights they don’t already have.

“If we don’t do this, we’re going to wind up in Chancery Court,” Pevy said. “The case law would not support our position.”

An ordinance vacating Pearl Street was approved 6-0 the first of two required readings.                                                                                           

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