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Land negotiationsfor airport property an ongoing process

Land negotiationsfor airport property an ongoing process

Posted: Monday, December 8, 2008 9:10 pm
By: John Brannon Messenger Staff Reporter

 Part 2 of 2 By JOHN BRANNON Messenger Staff Reporter Public need versus private property. It’s a conflict sometimes settled only by a meeting of the minds. Case in point: Negotiations between the Everett-Stewart Regional Airport authorities and owners of 429 acres of land located near the south end of the airport runway. The airport: A public entity. The land: Privately owned. The Everett-Stewart Regional Airport Commission, chaired by Dr. Chris Gooch of Troy, is seeking to acquire 65 acres of the 429-acre tract to extend the airport runway 1,500 feet — from 5,000 to 6,500 — for economic development purposes. A longer runway would enable the airport to receive corporate aircraft such as those used by Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and Tyson Foods. The runway can only be extended on its south end because Highway 22 lies in proximity of the north end. Quitclaim deed The 65-acre tract is part of a 429-acre tract specified in a quitclaim deed filed on April 4, 1998, by William H. “Bill” Latimer III of Union City, owner of Bill Latimer Investments Inc. The deed, filed at the Obion County Courthouse, is styled the Latimer 1998 Grandchildren’s Trust. Union City attorney John Warner Jr. is named as trustee. Jackson attorney Charles Barnett is attorney for Gail Latimer of Union City, who has a life interest in the property. Commission’s view Gooch said negotiations to acquire the 65 acres have been ongoing at least two years. Current status of negotiations? Bogged down. Here’s a glimpse of the situation: Gooch asserted the appraised value of the 65 acres is $380,000. “We have offered Mrs. Latimer $100,000 above that,” he said. “Plus, we have agreed to let her keep the income from the farm land until she dies.” That offer was the last of two or three in the process of negotiations. “We haven’t heard back from it,” he said. Gooch said the state Depart-ment of Transportation, through its Aeronautics Division, has appropriated $345,000 to begin engineering and design work on the runway extension. The grant monies have not been used because the commission wants to ensure it owns the land before spending any money. “If we don’t get it done before Gov. (Phil) Bredesen leaves office, I don’t think it’s going to happen,” Gooch said. He explained why. The Huntingdon-McKenzie airport is extending its runway to 6,000 feet. “They realize I-69 is going to come through and the impact it’ll have. Dyersburg wants it, too,” Gooch said. “We’ve got first dibs; we’re ahead of everybody. But if we fumble the ballit’ll be at least a generation before they come back to look at it again.” Gooch said contacts with local business and industry indicate support for the project because it will boost economic development of this area. “Therefore, they are willing to contribute to the cause,” he said, meaning contribute to the sale price. But there is a limit. “We are doing this because of economics. We’re trying to use and improve the facilities we have, to use (the runway extension) as a carrot to attract bigger industry to this area,” Gooch said. “The Cates Landing river port will come, I-69 will come. Huntingdon-McKenzie is counting on it. Dyersburg will follow up on it, and they probably won’t fumble the ball if we do up here. “We are trying to be reasonable. We need everybody to pitch in. There’s a limit to what taxpayers can afford, especially in this economic climate. We are just asking for consideration to make this project a ‘go.’ We’ve got money appropriated that we can’t touch until we get the land. “The last offer we made is about as much as we can go. If they turn that down, the only recourse we have would be to take it to both county commissions (Obion and Weakley counties jointly operate the airport) and see if they are willing to come up with the difference. But I wouldn’t hold my breath on it.” No hard feelings Jackson attorney Charles Barnett, who represents Mrs. Latimer in the matter, conceded negotiations with airport authorities have been under way a long time, and there’s a reason for it. First of all, Barnett asserted, it’s not an adversarial, hard-feelings conflict, but a matter of business. “We understand the importance of economic development of a regional airport, and we support that concept,” Barnett said. “Mrs. Latimer is the life tenant, but the remainder is owned by a trust for the Latimer grandchildren. We understand the need to extend the runway, but we are just trying to reach an agreement as to the price. There’s a difference of opinion as to the value of the property in question.” Not just land Barnett said there’s more to it than just the land itself. The acreage at issue has frontage on two sides, it’s near Union City and Martin and the airport, and it’s a farm headquarters, too. All these factors figure into appraisal. “So it’s not just the farm land,” he said. All in all, Barnett said, no one is mad at anyone and no doors have been slammed shut. “We are always willing to talk,” he said. “We are hopeful that we can resolve this in the near future.” Latimer speaks Saturday, Bill Latimer, who initiated the quitclaim deed, addressed the issue during a meeting with The Messenger. Latimer emphasized Obion County and Union City is his home, that this is where he was raised and where his children were raised. He asserted that he is just as interested in and supportive of local economic development as anyone else. As far as he 65-acre tract goes, he supports selling it to the airport. “I really don’t want to sell it. Nobody wants to sell land that’s been in their family a long time. But I would sell it,” he said. So what has been the cog in the wheels of progress, so to speak? The initial appraisal. Latimer hesitated to use the word “insult.” Instead, he used a substitute, one with equal effect. “The first appraisal was an embarrassment, a downright embarrassment,” he said. “Whoever did the appraisal did not take into account some recent local sales of land.” He gave an example — Discovery Park, an ambitious project now under way in Union City. “Bob Kirkland paid $20,000 an acre for 50 acres of land (to build the park). That’s $1 million,” he continued. “That land is more valuable than our land near the airport. So I’m not saying we want $20,000 an acre. But I am saying our land has frontage on two sides, it has structures, it’s headquarters for a sizable farming operation and it’s close to Union City, Martin and the airport. And that’s worth a lot in itself.” A new proposal As far as negotiations go, “the door is still open,” Latimer said. In fact, Barnett is preparing an answer to the airport commission’s last offer. Latimer characterized it as “a new proposal,” not further specified. “We hope to be able to present it to the commission within a couple of weeks,” he said. “Like I said, the door is open.” Published in The Messenger 12.8.08

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