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Town purchases Seal property for $1.2 million

Farragut Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted to purchase the Seal property, located off McFee Road, at its meeting Thursday, Sept. 11.

The purchase followed months of controversy centered around the property, originally proposed for purchase for use as an elementary school by Alderman Tom Rosseel in February.

The Town purchased the 16.8-acre property for $1,250,000 for “public use,” or use as parkland, a site for a community center, police or fire station or museum or some other recreational or community use.

The contract includes a 20-year restriction for this type of use; in other words the land could not be used for a subdivision or commercial development until 20 years from the purchase date.

Town Attorney Tom Hale explained the facets of the contract to the Board, saying most of the items were “standard real estate-type provisions.”

One atypical item is an environmental provision, allowing the Town to complete a thorough examination of the property before closing. This will likely include a geotechnical study to explore the possibility of sinkholes.

Alderman John Williams asked if this examination was standard.

Hale responded it wasn’t, but was included in this contract “because we don’t know what we may use [the land] for.”

“We’re very well advised to do that,” Mayor W. Edward “Eddy” Ford III said.

During this “due diligence” time, the Town could back out from purchasing the land if it was found to be unusable for a public purpose.

Vice Mayor J. Michael Haynes, who has opposed the purchase of the property since February, again announced his resistance to the price and the restrictions.

He reminded Board members they were paying $200,000 more than the appraisal value of the property, and if they condemned the property, they would pay only $1,050,000.

In the event of an economic downturn, “we would limit our ability to get our money back,” he said.

“There is nobody else out there who would buy it,” for this price, he added.

“The Town is not in the business of buying and selling land,” Rosseel said.

He added this was the first major land purchase by the Town in 13 years, and to “threaten condemnation is the wrong thing to do.”

“In the United States, in Tennessee, property rights are important. Taking somebody’s land … is something we try to avoid because we have such great respect in this state and in this country for private property,” Rosseel said.

The Town has only very rarely used condemnation to gain right-of-way and slope and construction easements, Rosseel said.

Haynes made a substitute motion — to replace Rosseel’s original motion — to condemn the property. It failed for lack of a second.

The restrictions for public use do not limit the Board much beyond the legal definition of a municipality’s use of land for public purpose. According to Rosseel, the only thing the Town could not build is a utility station, “which the town of Farragut does not build.”

“I strongly support the opportunity to purchase this land and invest in the future of the Town,” Rosseel said.

Jeff Elliott, a Fort West resident, addressed the Board, pointing out that a 20-year restriction was not that limiting.

The land for McFee Park, he said, was vacant for many years before finally being developed.

“The world could end next year … if it happens, it happens,” Elliott said.

“I think the key word is opportunity. They’re not making any new land. Five years from now, I doubt that anybody in this room will look back on this decision and say, ‘That was a terrible decision.’

“We’re going to look back at this as this was a great opportunity,” he added.

The Board voted to purchase the land four to one, with Haynes in opposition.


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