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Board seeks FMPC opinion

McFee Road will not be gaining a school just yet.

Debate was called off to defer the matter to Farragut Municipal Planning Commission in order that they provide an opinion on proper use of the Seal property.

That was the result of a long and far-reaching discussion of the proposal to purchase the property by the Farragut Board of Mayor and Aldermen, Thursday, May 8, at Town Hall.

Alderman Thomas Rosseel proposed the purchase of the Seal property, off McFee Road, for $1.3 million at a Board meeting Feb. 14. The land would be purchased with intent of donating it to Knox County for a school site.

The idea garnered strong opposition from Mayor W. Edward “Eddy” Ford III and Vice Mayor J. Michael Haynes, who said the Town was not in the school business.

May 8, Haynes made a motion to postpone the vote during the approval of the agenda since County Law Director John Owings had not responded to a letter outlining the proposal from Town attorney Tom Hale.

“It would be premature,” Haynes said. According to Hale, he had engaged in verbal communication with Owings, but had received no written correspondence.

Rosseel agreed that it was not time to donate, but argued that the Town should purchase the land for public use and donate later as a school, or in the worst case, use as an extension of McFee Park.

During a time of public comment, Bill Phillips, School Board-elect District 8, said he would not support an elementary school in Farragut. He cited several vacant County-owned school land sites that did not have any school buildings on them, including land for New Hopewell, Adrian Burnett, Carter and Ball Camp elementary schools.

“If you’re buying this property with the intention of building a school on it, it won’t happen in the next five years. If you’re purchasing it to put a park on it, you might as well order your swing sets,” he said.

In the past, Rosseel has received support of his idea from School Board members Karen Carson and Thomas Deakins.

The item remained on the agenda. Rosseel made a motion to approve the purchase of the land for use as a school or park.

After much discussion about the price of the land, Ford accused Rosseel of trying to contact Crook and Company to raise the appraisal value of the property after the Pryse property was sold. Crook and Company appraised the Seal’s land for $1,050,000, or $250,000 less than the $1.3 million price tag.

“I don’t think it is quite fair to say that there was any push to raise the appraisal. It was really just a question: if there was a parcel on the other side of the road that had sold for a higher amount, would that affect his appraisal that he had just completed in December? It really wasn’t a push to get him to try to raise the appraisal,” Darryl Smith, Town engineer, said.

Haynes then made a substitute motion that, if the purchase was approved, the most the Town would pay is the appraisal value.

Ford and Haynes also claimed that negotiations between the Seals and Rosseel, Town administrator, Dan Olson, and associate Town administrator, Gary Palmer, were invalid because the Board had not authorized them.

Rosseel said the Seal property came up in an executive session Dec. 13, in which the Board decided to allow Olson to appraise the property and discuss prices with the Seals.

Town attorney Tom Hale agreed. “We don’t negotiate our contracts in public, so the idea was, let’s find out what [price] these people are willing to set for their property … Mr. Rosseel could have gone and talked to them himself and find out what they were willing to take, but obviously [neither] Mr. Rosseel nor the Town administrator had the authority to enter into any agreement,” he said.

“Semantically, we say ‘negotiate’ but clearly the intent was to establish a price … the language should be ‘discussed the price range’ and not an actual ‘negotiation,’” Rosseel said.

Alderman John Williams then made an amendment to the substitute motion, removing the price cap and authorizing Palmer and Olson to reengage the Seals in discussing prices.

Pamela Treacy did not understand why the Board was discussing prices when it had not discussed whether the site was the right place for a school.

“Go back and do your homework,” she said.

After discussion of his amendment and hearing from audience members, Williams explained his thoughts.

“The property presented itself … it seemed an opportune moment to entice the School Board members to act and to perhaps change the relationship between Farragut and the [School] Board,” he said.

“It is clear you are correct in that none of this stuff is ever going to happen. There won’t be a school there for some time,” he added.

Williams moved to strike all former motions and replace them with a motion to refer the purchase proposal to the FMPC to discuss if the land is appropriate for “recreational use.” Ford seconded the motion.

Williams also requested the FMPC move “expediently,” but did not wish to set a time limit.

“If the point is to have an appropriate evaluation, there shouldn’t be an artificial time limit,” Ford said.

The motion passed



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