published Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Mistake selling Chattanooga park could cost city double

by Cliff Hightower

A 10-year-old mistake in selling a city park bought with federal money will mean taxpayers will have to pay double to get a new park.

Danny Thornton, director of general services, told the Chattanooga City Council on Tuesday that the city sold a park in Ridgedale in 2003 that had been bought with federal funds. The city was not allowed to sell that land because of the federal funding, he said.

"You can't do that," Thornton said.

Councilman Jack Benson asked what that means for the city.

"What option do we have now?" Benson asked.

"We'll be looking for property," Thornton responded.

The City Council voted 9-0 Tuesday night to give approval for Thornton to look for new land to replace the park that was sold.

The city sold the park to McCallie School for $200,000. Now the federal government has ordered the city to acquire a replacement parcel.

Thornton said that means the city must look for another piece of property in the general vicinity at comparable market value, which would mean about $400,000.

Council members were confused on how the city sold a piece of property it could not sell.

"I'm trying to find out how this happened," said Councilwoman Carol Berz.

"So are we," replied Dan Johnson, chief of staff for Mayor Ron Littlefield.

Benson told the council later he thought he knew why there was so much mystery.

"I know now why there's so much confusion," he said. "This property was bought for Ridgedale in the 1950s."

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