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City council approves easement

Atmore City Council members approved two measures during their February 26 meeting that paved the way for the sale of a local motel. While both represent a long-term agreement, one will have a short life span.

The council voted 4-0 to approve authorization of an easement and encroachment agreement that allows the hotel’s sign to occupy a few feet of city property on which it has stood for more than a decade.

“When that property was sold to Holiday Inn Express, and they built on it, the sign out there, near the interstate, and the pilings are actually on their property,” city attorney Larry Wettermark explained. “But the concrete base extends out a few feet. When they did a survey for the upcoming sale, they determined that the concrete base goes about two or three feet onto city property.”

He reported that the property involved was a utility easement that was of little or no significance to the city.

“It’s been there for almost a decade, and it’s not impeding anything,” Wettermark said. “What the new owners want before they take title to the property is some type of agreement from the city that they can keep the sign there until such time that it may either fall apart, deteriorate or they need to replace it. At that time, they would have to tear it all up and move everything back onto their property. This is not anything of value to the city.”

The council, sitting one member short due to a job commitment that prevented District 3’s Chris Walker from attending, gave the agreement its unanimous approval, then Wettermark moved on to the second item.

“The next item is a little more complicated,” the attorney said. “Going back to 2007, when the city first acquired the Rivercane property, a municipality was not able to acquire property for development and resale. So, when the property was conveyed to the city from the (Alabama) Department of Corrections, it was conveyed to an entity the city established in 2007, called the Commercial Development Authority, which the city populated with five members.

“The Commercial Development Authority actually conveyed the property to the current owners of Holiday Inn Express, gave them the deed in 2007, but the authority is now defunct. The Secretary of State’s website shows that it’s still active, but there hasn’t been any further need for it, and there have never been any reappointments to it. Under Alabama law, the authority continues to exist on a holdover basis, so the authority needs to sign this document.”

He further explained that the authority must be repopulated with five members, each of whom is a resident and registered voter of Atmore, who were to meet the following day and sign the agreement.

“They need to call a meeting to authorize the agreement that there are no contingencies (that would make the hotel sign an issue),” he said. “I suggest that they then go ahead and dissolve the authority and file with the Secretary of State so there is no uncertainty.”

He pointed out that the CDA was a powerful entity, with the power “to issue tax-free bonds and a lot of other things, but none of that has ever been done.”

Mayor Jim Staff said all five authority board members — Ben Odom, Vickie James, John Brantley, Jim Johnson and Tommy Moore, who has been a member since the authority was established — have been contacted and have agreed to “serve for 30 minutes.”

A note of discord came a minute later, when the mayor asked if anyone in the audience had anything to bring before the council.

“Were these people appointed or chosen?” Sandra Gray asked, to which Staff replied that he “was going down a list of folks I knew would come, and these were the first ones I got to.”

Wettermark added that the board has no power and that it would be dissolved immediately after the easement and encroachment agreement was signed. It would remain in existence “probably not more than 30 minutes,” he repeated.

Gray said she wasn’t satisfied with the racial makeup of the board, no matter whether it was a long-standing entity or not.

“That wasn’t my point,” she said. “In order for our city to grow, we need to include — even if it’s just for five minutes — some of our black business owners. Some of our black business owners or other people should be included, if it’s 30 minutes or whatever.”

The meeting was then formally adjourned, after which Gray and Staff continued the discussion.