Hillsboro City Council members would have liked a closed session to discuss reservations about approving lot sales to gun shop owner Craig Dodd on Tuesday at their regular meeting. But as that would have been a violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act, they tried to dance around the delicate issue of information missing from contracts presented by economic development director Clint Seibel.
“I have some concerns about the city’s ownership of those lots and who is proposing to buy them,” council member Marlene Fast said. “It’s Clint’s job to bring all the information to the table for us, and I don’t think that has happened here. I am just requesting we table this and give Larry (Paine) a little more time to look into some background issues before going ahead and approving this.”
Council members discussed utility incentives Seibel offered to Dodd as part of a purchase bargain that included sewer and electrical hook-ups put in by Prairie View and paid for by the city.
“If we are going to help some businesses, we need to be prepared to help them all,” Fast said. “We are selling these two lots at a phenomenal price, with hook-ups included. Why wasn’t this presented to other businesses?”
City Administrator Paine said all lots in the Hillsboro Heights addition have been for sale for some time, available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
“We have had for sale signs on the property for months,” he said. “I am not willing to say we have kept a good deal from anyone else. It’s just been a matter of who makes an offer on it.”
Seibel said the contract he presented from Dodd contained two agreements. The first was for the purchase of Lot 1, Block 3 for the proposed price of $7,000. One condition of the agreement was to allow customers to access Lot 1 from a driveway on Lot 2.
The second agreement for the same buyer was an option to purchase Lot 2, Block 3 for a two-year period at a purchase price of $6,750.
The lots in question are located directly south of the Country Haven Inn and were formerly occupied by Prairie View Mental Health Services.
Fast stated concerns about past business failures of the buyer in question and expressed the need for the city to investigate further.
“I don’t want to ever hurt anybody,” Fast said “I just want to protect the city as owner of these properties and take a little more time before we go ahead.”
Council member Bob Watson said he was in favor of approving the contracts as they were presented because if things did not work out, the city could always get the lots back.
“What we are discussing here doesn’t affect the deal on the table,” Watson said.
Paine indicated there would be no harm in tabling the matter for further review.
“What we have here is just a small hiccup in the process of getting another business going,” he said. “I do not think two weeks will make a lot of difference either way if we decide to table the issue until the next meeting.”
Seibel said the buyer was ready to build and needed to own the lot in order to get bids.
Watson made motions to approve both contract agreements, which the council passed 3-1 with Fast voting no.
Additional discussion related to the lot sales centered on the dilemma of semi-trucks using that area as turn-around space when they took the inlet road and found no way out.
“If we sell these lots and take away that turn-around space we are going to have to provide some place for trucks parking at the motel or just those who get in there by mistake, to turn around,” Seibel said.
Seibel presented a parking lot plan for city-owned land just west of Country Haven Inn that utilized 300 cubic feet for potential truck parking and turn-around room at a cost of $4,000 to $5,000.
“Why are we not asking the motel to pay for some of this parking space?” Fast asked. “If we help some businesses, we should be helping them all.”
Watson said he also struggled with the parking improvements mainly benefiting the motel, but could see how semi-truck parking could bring more business to that part of town.
“Part of my job is to pull these people in off the highway to benefit all our businesses,” Seibel said. “We’ve got to kind of cut the red tape and make it easier for growth here by helping the businesses we’ve already got here.”
Council members passed a motion to encourage the development of a truck parking lot west of Country Haven Inn.
In other business:
- Council members approved updates to the employee policy manual including the requirement that employees schedule five consecutive days of vacation leave by the end of February each year.
- Paine said the museum board turned in bid specifications for repair and improvements to be made to the Friesen Mill. Money donated by the Friesen family and held in escrow would be used to pay costs incurred.