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Salem approves selling 5 acres of green space
The move concerning a piece of the Elizabeth Campus property had some vocal critics.
Monday, March 11, 2013
The Salem City Council voted unanimously Monday night to allow the city to enter into an agreement to sell 5 acres of the so-called Elizabeth Campus property for $500,000 to a partnership that hopes to develop a medical office park on the land.
The vote followed a public hearing where several long time proponents of protecting green space at the campus objected to the sale, saying it violates promises made by the city council in 1998 to preserve at least half of the 52 city-owned acres.
Though the city has been in negotiations with Elizabeth Medical Park LLC, a Salem-based concern operated by Dan Friesland , and Capital Development Group, a Florida-based medical facilities development and management firm for about two years, the sale of the land is not necessarily imminent.
City Manager Kevin Boggess said the city has a purchase agreement with the two firms.
The partners hope to develop a medical office condominium complex, but other professionals might also be allowed to set up shop there, such as attorneys, architects and engineers. Under the agreement, at least one 17,000-square-foot building would be built, and possibly a second.
For the moment, the companies hold only a six-month option to buy the property, at a cost of $2,000 per month, half of which the city will keep if the option is not exercised.
Boggess said he expects the buyers would use the option period to conduct a feasibility study to make sure their proposed project makes business sense.
Moreover, if the partners buy the property and fail to develop it within two years, the city has the right to buy the property back at the original sale price if the buyers want to sell.
The purchase agreement also affects other aspects of the development, such as forbidding a flat-roof building — the developers are promising a gray, slate hip roof — and requiring a brick facade.
Cynthia Munley, a frequent critic of city land-use decisions, cited two newspaper articles in which council members in 1998 promised that 20 acres or half of the city-owned land at the campus would be protected and that a walking trail would be built.
Selling off another 5 acres for development would violate that promise, she said.
Boggess said city staff is researching whether the council made a binding promise to that effect, but so far has not confirmed it.
Munley urged the council to hold on to the land and instead encourage redevelopment of East Main Street.
Bill Modica, a former commercial real estate agent, is concerned the partners might prove to be just middlemen who want to re sell the land at a profit.
“We don’t want to lose it to some developer who can make a quick buck later when property values have come back,” he said.
City Attorney Steve Yost, however, said that if the land is sold within two years of its purchase, the buyer would be subject to all of the same conditions as Elizabeth Medical Park and Capital Development Group.
In other action, the council approved joining many other Virginia localities doing away with issuing vehicle decals to personal property taxpayers beginning this spring. The $20 fee for the decals will remain in place, but will be called a vehicle licensing fee.
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