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Quarry sale headed back to City Council

Wednesday, October 1, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Though theatrical, the public offer to buy a Cedar Park quarry for almost $1 million more than its appraised value didn’t find any takers Tuesday at the City Council Audit and Finance Committee.

Last Thursday, a representative of the current tenant offered to buy the land at 15700 Anderson Mill Road for $5 million, just as Council was deliberating whether to approve the sale to Cedar Park at its current appraised value of $4.1 million. The offer was enough to make the Council pause, and send the proposal to its Audit and Finance Committee for discussion.

On Tuesday, Audit and Finance Committee members voted 3-0-1 to recommend the sale to Cedar Park. Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole abstained.

Cole said the case presented an “interesting dilemma,” by pitting the city’s responsibility to maintain the highest return on investments for taxpayers against the benefits of intergovernmental cooperation.

“I simply haven’t landed on which one of those interests override in this case,” said Cole.

Council Member Bill Spelman asked whether it was “worth $900,000 to treat Cedar Park the way we’d like the state to treat us, with respect to a very similar transaction.” Spelman explained that the state had the option of putting the Bull Creek property out to bid and could probably get more from a private buyer.

“But I think the public would be better served by our buying it and planning it and developing it properly, in the same way that I think Cedar Park is going to be buying, planning and developing this tract of land properly,” said Spelman.

Though owned by the City of Austin since 1987, the 215-acre property is within the boundaries of Cedar Park, which annexed the property after the city’s purchase.

Lorraine Rizer, director of the Office of Real Estate, told the committee that the property had been leased to M.E. Ruby Inc. since 1974. Ranger Excavating purchased the lease rights and has been operating the quarry since 2007.

Discussions about the sale began in January 2014, when the property was appraised at $4.1 million. Since then, the city has been working out contract terms with Cedar Park.

Rizer explained that it was appraised as a quarry and for redevelopment potential.

“This is a difficult tract to appraise because in trying to look at its development, we had to look at the cost to restore the property,” said Rizer. “There’s a lot of estimation that goes into redeveloping a quarry site.”

Rizer said it was most valuable as a redevelopment site, noting that the amount of money the city received for leasing the site as a quarry was “very low.” She said that she understood the value to Ranger, right now, was “filling back up the hole.” She explained that Ranger’s lease allowed the company to dispose of unwanted rock pieces into the hole, and transporting those rocks off-site was very expensive. She said Ranger had talked to her office about restoring the property.

Before last Thursday’s Council meeting, Ranger had offered $1 million to purchase the property.

Cedar Park hopes to use the land for trails and redevelopment. It would also allow the city to widen Anderson Mill Road and extend Park Street. Both roads run through the property.

Phil Brewer, who is the director of Economic Development for Cedar Park, read a letter from Cedar Park Mayor Matt Powell expressing his “sincere interest” in acquiring the property. The letter explained that they had negotiated in good faith and described the disruptions that the current land use causes.

“The quarry operations present unique and difficult concerns, such as blasting immediately adjacent to residences, heavy commercial truck traffic through our residential neighborhoods, and destruction of arterial roadways,” read Brewer. “The quarry is simply incompatible with the surrounding land use and mobility needs of a growing region.”

Council Member Laura Morrison said that she thought there was a public interest in selling the land to Cedar Park, and though the city might get a little more money selling to a private entity, governmental ties were more beneficial to the city.

“When I think of someone trying to live next to an active quarry, and with a growing region, maybe that’s just not an appropriate site for that kind of industrial use anymore,” said Morrison.

Powell’s letter also noted that the current lease expires in October 2017, and Cedar Park would work to honor the terms of that lease.

When asked whether Cedar Park could match Ranger’s $5 million offer, Powell responded that it was hard for a governmental entity to spend tax dollars to purchase land above an appraised value.

“Yeah, we wouldn’t do that either,” said Cole.

The full City Council will consider the sale this Thursday. Council members have the option of approving the sale to Cedar Park, negotiating a higher sales price based on the verbal offer made during Council, opening up the sale for a bidding process, or doing nothing.

 

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