Mayor Robert Reichert’s recent clash with Macon City Council about 11 parking spaces on Walnut Street returns to the council’s Public Properties Committee today for discussion.
Committee members will debate the merit of the mayor’s plan to give the city-owned strip of property that’s used for a private business’s parking to the Urban Development Authority so it can be leased to a downtown law firm.
The property, which is a part of the city’s broad right of way on Walnut Street and therefore under city control, historically has been used as parking spaces by tenants of 200 Third St., currently the Buzzell, Graham & Welsh law firm. The mayor said his resolution would simply formalize that arrangement. It’s good for business, he said, to allow the strip to continue to be used as parking spaces.
“We want to make it more attractive to keep people downtown,” Reichert said.
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But the council doesn’t want to give away the 22-by-105-foot parcel of land, which would be leased, according to the mayor’s plan, for a one-time fee of $10. They also balked at the resolution when they learned the Buzzell, Graham & Welsh law firm had received two appraisals — for $20,000 and $28,000 — and decided the price was too expensive for land they wouldn’t be building anything on.
What the committee didn’t know the first time the resolution came around in January is that before the lawyers bought the building, they asked Reichert whether the spaces were owned by the city. The mayor said the city didn’t control those spaces, which he later learned was incorrect. By then, though, the lawyers already had purchased the building.
The lawyers were worried about the parking spaces because in 2005 former Mayor Jack Ellis blocked off spaces at the adjacent offices of the Martin Snow law firm. Ellis said then he was responding to concerns about the safety of disabled people who have to pass behind parked vehicles because there is no sidewalk there.
Bill Buzzell, a partner at Buzzell, Graham & Welsh, said his law firm weighed several options before buying the building.
“We knew we could be a part of the solution for downtown,” he said, “instead of being a part of the problem by leaving.”
Councilman Erick Erickson, chairman of the council’s Public Properties Committee, acknowledges the city made a mistake, but he doesn’t like what the council has been asked to do to remedy it. He said if the plan is the same — to give the property to the Urban Development Authority to lease it to the law firm — the committee will likely “kill it” again.
“The problem I have is that (the lawyers) received an appraisal and didn’t like it,” he said.
In an effort to make the small strip more affordable, Erickson would support another appraisal that valued the land as a parking lots instead of land for development.
He also suggested that Buzzell address the committee.
“He should make it clear that he was induced to purchase the property based on the city’s misstatement,” Erickson said.
Hoping the city becomes more business-friendly, Buzzell wants the council to visit the building, which is being renovated.
“We’d like them to come measure our investment,” he said, “see its impact on the function and aesthetic and the tax base of downtown.”
To contact writer Chris Horne, call 744-4494.