Making an offer: Sources said the agreed price for the strip of park land was $300,000

Monday, May 12, 2008
KIT DOYLE ~ kdoyle@semissourian.com Fourth-graders from West Lane Elementary played football Wednesday at Cape Girardeau County Park North. Stakes marked the property line of the area the Cape Girardeau County Commission has approved for sale to Drury.

The Cape Girardeau County Commission's decision to sell a 1.24-acre section of County Park North raised questions about the legal authority for selling county land and raised the ire of the advisory board appointed to watch over park operations.

The land in question, a 70-foot-wide strip of sloping property at the west end of the park, is adjacent to property owned by Dan Drury and Bob Hahn of Mid America Hotels. Drury, in an interview last week, would not disclose complete development plans for the property he currently owns. He said the strip of park land would be landscaped to provide a buffer between his property and the county's, but not otherwise used. Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones, in a statement justifying the commission's actions, said Drury planned a mixed commercial and retail development.

The Drurys already own land fronting U.S. 61 from the park boundary to Center Junction.

The park land is "a very small piece of land," Drury said. He said an offer was made to allow for versatility in the layout and design of his company's building plans.

"We just sent a proposal and we had an appraisal done of the ground," Drury said in a phone interview. "We made an offer for a piece of ground that would not really be ever used."

He said the offer included an agreement that his company would do some landscaping, including planting a tree screen that would benefit the park. He said he understood the deal was "to go through the park board and there were no strings attached."

As for the price offered, Drury cited business reasons for keeping it confidential, but added, "It was a multiple of what the appraisal was. It far exceeded the appraisal."

According to several sources, the agreed price is $300,000.

A review of state statutes regulating the sale of land owned by counties shows there are no restrictions on the county disposing of land. No formal bidding process is required. Attorneys for the county are reviewing whether any deed restrictions or other impediments to the sale based on past promises or federal funding would alter the plan. As for the use of the money, the law says only that it will be appropriated for the use of the county.

The questions about bidding, the use of the sale proceeds, restrictions or covenants on the land and the need for a buffer zone between the park the development were raised by the Board of Park Commissioners in an unannounced May 4 meeting to discuss the sale, according to minutes released Friday.

During the May 5 commissioners' meeting, Jones said no decision about the use of the sale money was allowed in the closed meeting held April 3 to discuss the sale. Associate Commissioner Jay Purcell sought to have the commission commit itself to using half the purchase price for improvements in the remaining portions of County Park, according to Jones.

"Mr. Purcell stated that he and the park board wanted $150,000 of the transaction earmarked for a new park shelter, restrooms and a playground," Jones said. "He was informed this was out of order in a closed session. We were addressing the sale of park property with the funds to go toward park development and/or park land acquisition. The idea of a park shelter, etc., had to be decided in an open session."

Jones also said Purcell reported that he had "discussed the sale with all park board members and he had one dissenting vote and that was the price."

Purcell disputed Jones' recollections after Jones completed his statement.

And Joe Sherinski, chairman of the Board of Park Commissioners, said that during an unannounced closed meeting held May 4, members voiced far more dissent than a single objection to the price. "One or two board members were adamantly opposed to any sale for any reason," he said. "One or two members said we could sell it but wanted assurances" about how the land would be developed.

As for himself, Sherinski said he wanted the money set aside for parks.

"I am not happy with this deal," Sherinski said. "But I am only a member of an advisory board. I have no clout."

In his statement, Jones promised that the proceeds would be dedicated to park purposes.

Drury expressed disappointment over the fact that the land deal has become part of a growing Cape Girardeau County Commission scandal.

"It's unfortunate that any of this stuff has gotten where it is today," he said. "It's unfair that this project that we've been working on for six to eight months, it looks like this caused it and it has not. We were just trying to do the right thing. It was an opportunity for the park and an opportunity for the county."

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

pmcnichol@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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