During a two-hour work session Monday, the City Council, IDB and Airport Board discussed issues surrounding 18 acres on the north-northwest side of the airport that was assumed city property and approved as part of an airport expansion project last fall. It was later discovered the property was actually deeded to IDB in 1996. In November, the Federal Aviation Administration expressed interest in purchasing the property, and the city submitted a pre-application for a federal land acquisition grant, from which a response is pending.
Airport consultant Barry Mott, vice president of Barge Waggoner Sumner and Cannon, said FAA, which approved the land in question as part of an Airport Layout Design in 2007, is still gathering details regarding the grant, and he does not know how it will respond to this situation.
“I’ve never run across a question where it was shown on the ALD, signed off on the city that it was right, and then they never really had title to that property to begin with,” Mott said.
City Clerk Patricia Carden explained that when the ALD was being designed, Airport Board Chairman Tommy Dobson told the city that 10 acres of land included in the potential plan was owned by IDB.
“The council voted (to get it back), and included it in the ALD at that point,” Carden said. “For whatever reason, deeds were not conveyed, and then (County Economic Development Board Director Calvin Miller) comes to the council and asks for funding and acreage and (then-councilman Mayor Doug Murphree) says we don’t own that property, and Calvin says, ‘We don’t own that property, y’all own that.’”
The council then gave IDB 10 acres of land it unknowingly already owned to build the speculative building, and neither side checked the deeds until the airport expansion project began last fall, Carden said.
At Monday’s meeting, the question arose about if the IDB would be considered a city entity by FAA. While IDB is separately incorporated, its members are city-appointed. In addition, the 1996 agreement for the aforementioned property states that 90 percent of proceeds from its use will be remitted to the city and Utilities Board for deposit into the industrial development fund, and IDB keeps the remaining 10 percent. It also says sale of the land is subject to approval of an Oversight Committee composed of the mayor and one representative from the Utilities Board, IDB, City Council and Chamber of Commerce.
Regardless, the deed remains in possession of IDB, and Chairman Raymond Styres said the board has twice voted to retain the property for industrial purposes, though he did say they would accept a one-time payment of $3 million for the property.
“We need to bring closure to this issue,” Styres said. “Are we going to develop it for industrial development, create jobs, create revenue for the city, or are we going to have hangars out there for people to have recreational airplanes come into Sylacauga and fly around at an expense to the city?”
Dobson said the airport’s recreational uses are ancillary to its true purposes for business development, and “to go further, I dare say you will ever find a thriving economy in any local area that does not have a nice airport.”
Council President Rocky Lucas said he felt the city was “caught in the middle,” and should have the IDB-owned portion of land removed from the ALD. Other councilman agreed.
“I look at it like the (Airport Board) can’t own property, the city doesn’t own it, the IDB owns it,” Councilmen Billy Carden said. “I don’t see any other way except to take it off.”
Lucas asked if any action was required of the council, and Carden said the city needs to know FAA procedures for removing the property and also needs an answer from a third party about whether the IDB and city are considered one in the same.
Mott agreed to pose these questions to FAA, and the city decided to possibly request an Attorney General’s opinion about IDB’s relationship. IDB member Gary Smith said they would seek a court judgment on the issue as well.
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