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City may purchase old school site, bail out county
Aug 05, 2005 12:00 am
August 2, 2005
A key Mt. Juliet city commissioner is recommending the city buy the old Mt. Juliet Elementary site, a growing sore spot between city government and a cash-strapped county school system.
District 1 Commissioner Ray Justice, a lifelong Mt. Juliet resident, said he is recommending his city government purchase the old school site, which sits at the corner of Mt. Juliet Road and Division Street in the heart of the city.
The old school has become the source of controversy in recent weeks with school system officials blaming a city "town center" zoning plan for keeping the surplus county property from selling to a developer.
A Nashville developer with a $3 million option to buy the property backed out last week, and school officials are pointing to the town center zoning restrictions from making the property marketable. School officials at one time said a Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse was slated for the site.
$2.1 million of the potential sale price for the old school is earmarked for the Wilson County Board of Education to pay back county government for money borrowed to build the new Mt. Juliet Elementary, a project members of Mt. Juliet city government actively campaigned to have funded.
Justice said he would work with the rest of city government to try and determine the value of the site and work out a deal with the school system. He said he already discussed the idea of the city buying the property with a "executive member of the Wilson County School System."
"Every piece of property is worth what someone is willing to pay for it," Justice said. "I'm going to try and build a consensus on the City Commission as to what the fair market value is."
Justice added the city would market the property for "mixed uses" and not a big-box national retailer.
"We are going to try and market it in a manner that allows it to be developed within the town center plan," Justice said.
Mt. Juliet City Manager Rob Shearer said while the city did not have the money in cash reserves to pay the figure $2.1 million figure, the city could borrow the money.
"We don't have that kind of cash sitting in a reserve fund," Shearer said. "We would have to do a bond offering. I don't think it would be that difficult. We also would have the anticipated future earnings to pay it back."
Zone 4 School Board member Ron Britt, one of the city's main critics over enforcing the town center zoning on the school site, said the city purchasing the old school would be a win-win.
"It would solve a sale problem for us, assuming we agreed on a air price," said Britt, whose district covers most of Mt. Juliet. "It would also allow them to guarantee the kind of development they want to do there."
"The idea they have is going to be restrictive," Britt added of town center zoning. "It is going to be restrictive to us to attract a Lowe's type of retailer."
The standoff between city government and county government over the land sale has been ongoing.
City leaders insist the School System requested the town center zoning. School officials are not so sure.
"We have never done anything in Mt. Juliet to keep that property from selling," Justice said. "That is a myth."
Britt suggested county school system employees who worked with the city may not have been well versed enough in the city's zoning.
"My understanding was we were trying to clarify the zoning to market the property," Britt said. "… Our intention was to have zoning in place to help us attract a big-box retailer."
Mt. Juliet Mayor Linda Elam did not return a telephone call to her Nashville law office for this story.
Managing Editor Clint Brewer can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 13 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.