Community Center Sale Approved

BLYTHEWOOD – In a special called 5 p.m. meeting at Town Hall Tuesday, Blythewood Town Council gave the second and final vote to authorize the mayor to execute a contract, dated Dec. 31, 2012, to sell the 5-acre Blythewood Community Center property to Sharpe Properties, LLC for $1.5 million. The 24-hour notice for the meeting was posted at Town Hall and at the post office. The notice was not submitted in time to publish in the newspaper.

The sales contract gives Larry Sharpe, owner of Sharpe Properties, until Jan. 21, 2013, to back out of the contract if he finds the zoning restrictions on the property would make it unsuitable for him to develop. This is the second time in a little over a year that Sharpe entered into a contract with the Town to purchase the property. He let the first contract, for $265 million, expire on Oct. 27 due to concerns he had about certain zoning issues and plans the Town might have in regard to the property that he felt might adversely impact his investment.

The sale comes after 13 years of controversy over the town government’s desire to sell the property and use the proceeds to build a multi-million dollar town park. Tom Utroska, a resident of Cobblestone Park, For years the Community Center property was the hub of the town’s social activity, and many residents have spoken out at Council meetings calling for the Town to renovate the Center and use some of the property for a visitor’s center. Two members of the community addressed Council about the sale Monday.

Tom Utroska, a resident of Cobblestone Park, chastised Council for dropping the price from $2.65 million (the amount of Sharpe’s first contract) to $1.5 million after only 14 months.

“Why wasn’t the property re-marketed to seek additional suitors?” Utroska asked.

In a memorandum dated July 29, 2004 and initiated by John Hicks, the Town’s administrator at the time, the town’s attorney, Deborah Hottel, advised that the S.C. Code of Laws does not require the Council to have in place a specific process for selling property, and the Councils over the years have chosen not to initiate one. The memorandum further notes that state law does not require the Town to hold a public hearing for the sale of property owned by the Town unless a public hearing is requested. If no one requests a public hearing to sell land owned by the Town, then none is required.

“Once the sale [to Sharpe] closes, that will be a good time to address this issue with the public,” Councilman Paul Moscati responded to Utroska.

Mayor J. Michael Ross, in defense of the Council’s move to sell the property at a reduced price, said the previous contract had included certain incentives to reduce the sale price [by up to $500,000] if Sharpe had chosen to meet certain criteria specified by the Town. But there was no requirement that he take advantage of those incentives.

Michael Watts, a lifelong member of the Blythewood community, said that while he had no issue with the purchaser, and understood why a good businessman would buy the property, he added that he wasn’t thrilled with getting an explanation of the sale after the fact.

Watts also expressed his objection to selling the Center for several reasons.

“The Council has taken on marking historical places in the town, but, with the exception of a few churches and the old school (now Blythewood Academy), there is no place in this town that holds as many memories for many of the town’s people as the Community Center property,” Watts said. “No other place in town holds that kind of history.”

Watts said that families who historically rented the Community Center for $200 for an event might not be able to afford $700-$1,000 for an event at the Doko Manor. He also said the Community Center property, sitting off I-77, was the perfect place for a visitor’s center.

“You wouldn’t be having to market it to tell everyone where to come,” Watts said.

“For as many people as have your viewpoint, I think there are just as many who would disagree,” Mayor Ross countered. “It [Doko Manor] may cost $700 – $800 to rent, but you’ll get something worth $1,500 – $2,000. It’s something they’ll be proud of.”

“It is set now where we’ve moved forward and we now have a new location,” Councilman Jeff Branham said. “I think people would rather have a nice restaurant there. The decision has been made to move forward. I don’t want anyone to think I’m betraying what I said in the past, but I feel we should move forward with it.”

Branham said that selling the Community Center would provide money to build more things in the park.

Councilman Roger Hovis made the motion to call for the vote and Council voted unanimously to authorize the mayor to sell the Center.

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