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Finally, a decision

Council approves land swap for new hospital

Atmore City Council at Mondays meeting from left Chris Harrison, Susan Smith, Mayor Jim Staff, Web Nall, Chris Walker, Jerome Webster.
Chris Griffin and Nancy Lowrey at the city council meeting.

News Staff Writer

For Escambia County Healthcare Authority officials, the Monday (March 9) Atmore City Council meeting represented a case of “fourth time lucky.”
The council, having failed three times to act on a request for a donation of 10 acres in the Rivercane retail-industrial park for a new hospital, approved by a 4-1 vote a land swap under which ECHCA would receive the acreage it wanted.
In exchange, the city will receive the 8.3-acre tract of land located behind the current site of Atmore Community Hospital, as well as the “grass area by the driveway,” that provides access from 9th Avenue and Medical Park Drive.
District 4’s Susan Smith cast the only opposing vote, explaining her reasoning before doing so.
“We definitely need a new hospital, and I’m going to vote what I feel like I need to vote,” Smith said. “So, my vote is ‘no’.”
During a council workshop prior to the meeting, Mayor Jim Staff told council members that an independent appraisal indicates that the total acreage the city will receive is worth $104,239. That comes to roughly $12,289 per acre.
Staff said the appraiser reported that three other similar properties sold for, respectively, $90,000 (4.8 acres in Brewton), $99,000 (11.39 acres, 6 miles from ACH) and $109,000 (10 acres, less than a mile from ACH).
The council had agreed two weeks ago to also have the 10 Rivercane acres appraised, but no such appraisal has yet been conducted. However, he said, ECHCA Chair Debbie Rowell, a local realtor, told him the property the city will receive has a higher value than the land around Rivercane.
“I haven’t seen it (the appraisal) yet, but Debbie said that she sold, just south of Bethel Church (off Ala. 21), 13 acres and it brought $1,500 an acre, which is naked land,” he explained. “This (the Rivercane land) has power, sewer, water, gas. If the land right across the street sold for that, you know that land has to be worth about the same thing because it’s nothing but farmland.”
In response to a question from Smith, the mayor said the city purchased the Rivercane land not to make money off it, but as a means of bringing jobs and a revenue stream to the city.
“It’s going to make that property to the south (of the hospital site) worth a whole lot more money, too,” Staff said.
District 2’s Jerome Webster summed up the frustration he has dealt with over the issue, telling his council peers that, “I’m tired of it, really, to be honest,” and noting that the majority of his constituents are against the hospital being built near the interstate.
“Basically, what they said to me is that they’re tired of being the stepchild to both sides,” he said. “They want a hospital, but they want to know why not put it across from Hendrix Tractor, there on 21.”
After the vote sealed the deal, ECHCA Treasurer Nancy Lowrey and CEO Chris Griffin shook hands with the mayor and each council member, including Smith.
“We are very pleased with the decision today, and we look forward to getting the project started,” Lowrey said, while Griffin added that “it will be a great partnership.”
In other business, the council:
*Approved a request from Devon Howard to hold the Young Entrepreneurship Festival at Houston Avery Park, from 1-4 p.m. on June 20.
*Approved a lighting maintenance agreement with the Alabama Department of Transportation for the new lights currently being erected at Interstate 65’s exit 57.