published Friday, January 13th, 2012

Hamilton County Commissioner Joe Graham questions land purchase in North Shore area

Hamilton County Commissioner Joe Graham says he opposes the county spending $121,000 for a half-acre of property with a rail line running through it.

During a commission Finance Committee meeting Thursday, Graham expressed his concerns about the county's proposed deal with the Norfolk Southern railroad to buy property adjacent to the Business Development Center in North Shore. The deal would give the county ownership of a parking lot it's already been using for at least 15 years.

Even if the county buys it, the railroad is "still going to be able to back their rail lines right in the middle of it," Graham said.

The full commission will vote Wednesday on the matter, which will be presented without a recommendation.

Graham wants the county to instead negotiate an inexpensive long-term lease that would allow the county to improve the property without paying $5 per square foot for it.

County Engineer Todd Leamon said the county only realized after it began working toward improving the parking lot how much of it is owned by Norfolk Southern.

"We're actually encroaching on that property now," Leamon said.

The state improved the intersection at Manufacturers Road and Cherokee Boulevard in 2005, and the new configuration reduced the Business Development Center's parking spaces by 30, he said.

Leamon said he's negotiated for at least a year to bring the railroad down from $10 to $5 per square foot.

"We got to this point because of a letter the mayor sent to the CEO of Norfolk Southern," Leamon said.

County Mayor Jim Coppinger said the effort to obtain the property began with previous Mayor Claude Ramsey.

"It's been several years in the works," Coppinger said. "We realize that's a lot of money, but ... the market value of it somewhere between $16 and $30 a square foot."

The additional parcel would add value to the Business Development Center site, which could benefit the county if it ever decided to sell the land, Leamon said.

about Ansley Haman...

Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...

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