Leader Blues

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

TOP STORY >>Cabot buys land for armory

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

The Cabot City Council Monday night approved paying $399,000 for 15.5 acres in the industrial park on Highway 367 to build a National Guard armory. Plans call for the state to pay $350,000 of the cost.

Becky Lemaster and Teri Miessner, two council members who are becoming known for their close examination of the mayor’s proposals, had some pointed questions.

Both Lemaster and Miessner said they supported buying the land and voted for the purchase, but Miessner told Mayor Eddie Joe Williams that she wanted to make sure all parts of the purchase agreement were legal. The land purchase did not go through the council committees, so council members had little time to review the purchase agreement.
“I want to make sure you did your homework,” Miessner said.

The city is buying the land from North Cabot Development Group, Inc., a group of about a dozen local developers. Williams said because the group was so large, negotiations took about three months and at times he was not sure the sale would go through.

When questioned about whether he could have found land any cheaper than the $26,000 an acre the city will pay, Williams reminded Lemaster and Miessner that the city had paid $175,000 for a half acre for a temporary fire station on Highway 5.
Charles Ward, who signed the purchase agreement for North Cabot Development Group, said he has property nearby in Austin that appraised for $3.50 a square foot, which comes to $150,000 an acre.

Specifically, Miessner and Lemaster were concerned about the parts of the purchase agreement that would help the sellers develop their remaining lots in the industrial park: free water meters, free building permits and no impact fees.
“I wonder if we’re not giving away the store on some of these things,” Miessner asked the mayor.

“Bill, can we give away water meters?” she asked Bill Cypert, secretary of Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission.
Cypert responded that the commission couldn’t give them away, but the city could buy them at a cost of $25,000 to $30,000.

Lemaster said she understood that the city would “comp” the fees it usually charges, but she said she learned at a recent Municipal League seminar that impact fees are almost certain to be challenged in court and she didn’t want Cabot’s impact fees to be made more vulnerable.

The sale is contingent on the state paying $350,000 of the $399,000. Sen. Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle, attended the meeting to explain the state’s part in financing the land purchase. He said $150,000 would come from the almost $1 billion state surplus and $100,000 would come from the governor’s discretionary fund. Although he said the governor was a supporter of the project, he urged the mayor to send an official request for the money.

Also attending were several of the sellers and several area residents who first tried while former Mayor Joe Allman was in office to get an armory in Cabot.

David Hipp, who was Allman’s operations director, thanked the men who helped convince the National Guard that Cabot needed an armory.

In addition to Hipp and Allman, the men who started the process of bringing an armory to the city are Fred Campbell, Don Elliott, Wayne “Moose” Cunnis, Bill DeVoss, Gary McMillan and Charles George.

Once the property is purchased, the deed will be signed over to Arkansas National Guard, which will have the construction of the $8 million armory placed in line for federal funding within the next five years. Williams says building the armory is “the single biggest thing for Cabot in recent history” which will have an economic impact on the city of $1 million or more a year.
If it is built in the industrial park, it will be visible from the new railroad overpass, which should be under construction within the next two months. Since the overpass will be used by school buses, Williams said the location will be good for recruiting. He said he also hopes it will have a positive impact on his efforts to get federal money to build a north interchange that is part of his three-phase plan to connect Highway 5 to U.S. 67-167.

After the 7-0 vote with one council member absent, Miesser apologized to any of the sellers she might have offended with her questions, saying that as a council member, she had to look after the city’s interests.

Alderman Virgil Teague, who was hospitalized last month with blood-clotting problems, is now out of intensive care and undergoing rehabilitation. Williams read a letter from Teague to the council that said he hoped to be back on the job soon.
In other business: The council reappointed Bill Johnson to Position 4 of the Cabot Advertising and Promotion Commission; passed an ordinance providing spousal death benefits for the city clerk-treasurer; and passed an ordinance repealing the $1 permit fee for yard sales, which the clerk-treasurer said caused too much work for the revenue it produced.