City wants $600,000 for former Evans Seafood site

Published 11:45 pm Saturday, May 5, 2007

By Staff
No decision to sell; council prepares to enter proposals
Contributing Editor
The only thing for sure when it comes to the former Evans Seafood property is the city wants at least $600,000 for the half-acre site.
The Washington City Council made that clear during its Thursday planning session about the property, which is on the city’s waterfront. The council has yet to decide if it will sell the property, but most council members indicated during the meeting they believe a hotel is the most-appropriate use of the land.
Councilman Ed Gibson said he believes the council is inclined to sell the land so a hotel can be built there.
The council decided that placing open space adjacent to the half-acre site in a conservation easement or some type of trust so that land could not be developed should be done.
In March, the council voted 3-2 to accept the planning board’s recommendation the property be sold for commercial development that would be the “highest and best use” of the property. The board’s recommendation included a provision calling for open space adjacent to the former Evans Seafood property to remain that way. The council, by way of a 3-2 vote, also decided to begin receiving development proposals for the former Evans Seafood property.
At its May 14 meeting, the council will determine what criteria to use when evaluating those development proposals.
During the Thursday meeting, council members discussed possible criteria they would like to use when they evaluate proposals. Those criteria include, but are not limited to, a performance bond, participation in improving and maintaining adjacent green space, mitigation for any loss of waterfront access and providing a letter of credit to show the developer has the money to complete the proposed development project.
Although other potential uses — retail, residential and open space were listed by council members as appropriate uses of the land, a hotel on the property was the focal point of the meeting.
During talk about potential uses of the half-acre lot, Mayor Judy Meier Jennette indicated she believes a commercial use would better benefit the city than using the land as open space, which some speakers at hearings on the issue have supported.
During the meeting, Councilman Archie Jennings, who was the most vocal during the meeting, asked his colleagues and Jennette if they would sell the land if a hotel is not a practical use of the property. He did not receive a direct reply to his question then. After continued discussion, responses to is question began emerging.
Gahagan also said benefits the city would derive from selling the land must be worth more than the money the city would receive from selling it. The councilman said the city could sell the land to someone for more than it’s appraised, which would provide the city a one-time source of income. If the city sold the land at a lower price to a developer who built a hotel on the site, the city would receive revenue from the sale, but it also would receive revenue generated by property taxes on the hotel and occupancy taxes paid by people staying at the hotel, Gahagan said. A hotel would provide a recurring source of revenue for the city, he said.
Mayor Pro Tempore Darwin Woolard wondered if the city needed to sell the property to obtain revenue.
Jennings also called for the city, if it sells the property, to sell it on the open market, which he said would result in the city getting the best price possible for the land.
It’s possible the city could be offered much more than its appraised value of $600,000, he said.
Jennings said it’s in the city’s best interest to sell the land on the open market, “not behind closed doors under the auspices of economic development.” The state’s open-meeting laws allow the council to discuss land sales or purchases behind closed doors if the transaction is for economic-development reasons.
It was Jennings who said the city, if it sells the land, should not sell it for “one dime less” than the appraised value. And once it’s sold, Jennings said he wants assurances that the person buying the land will follow through on proposed development plans.
The councilman also wants the city to have a say in how the land is developed.
Jennings also wondered what the council would do if a hotel is not feasible for the site.
After more discussion about the land, council members and the mayor decided, the council has three options — sell the land, set it and adjacent green space aside for use as open space forever or maintain the status quo, which would mean keeping the land and possibly selling it in the future.