Editorial: Were taxpayers burned by commission's choice of fire station site?

March 11, 2004

Now we know what the Danville City Commission has been doing in all of those closed-door meetings over the past year: Waiting for the price of land for a new southend fire station to double.

The commission voted Monday to to buy an acre on the south side of Danville Bypass for $75,000 - a price that one commissioner said had doubled since negotiations with property owner Tommy Owens began a year ago.

As with many of the actions taken by the current commission, this was a split decision. Mayor John W.D. Bowling and city commissioners Chester Kavanaugh and Ryan Owens voted to buy the land. Commissioners Terry Crowley and Jamey Gay voted against it.

It was Gay who revealed at a meeting Monday that the price had doubled. Crowley said he believed that a less expensive site could be found.


Another option the city was considering was a site on Belinda Avenue, which runs between Applebee's restaurant and the Goodwill store. In a detailed memo on the issue last winter, before Applebee's opened, Fire Chief Mike Thomas said that the Belinda Avenue site was the better option.

Bowling called the newspaper Tuesday morning - after the voted had been taken - to say that Thomas had changed his mind about the site in the past several weeks because he believed customers' cars parked along the street might obstruct fire trucks. Thomas later confirmed Bowling's statement.

Perhaps traffic congestion around the new Applebee's is a good reason for rejecting the Belinda Avenue location, but it does not justify the price paid of the Owens site nor does it put to rest other concerns raised about the Owens site in the fire chief's evaluation, even though the evaluation was completed before Applebee's opening.

And we're not particularly convinced by the mayor's pronouncement that the Owens site is actually worth $150,000. We were not aware that the mayor was a real estate expert as well as being a fast-food tycoon. Should we send a thank-you note to the developer for his gift to the city?

Seriously, one suspects that if the property was worth $150,000, that would have been the developer's asking price. And what is any property worth but what someone is willing to pay for it?

We're also concerned that two commissioners who were privy to information about all of the sites considered and the prices asked for them voted against this purchase. This is an awfully big decision for the city to make over the objection of two commissioners and with what we would consider to be the lukewarm - or perhaps coerced - approval of the fire chief.

On the other hand, further delay could be costly. If the price of the property doubled during a year of closed-door sessions by the commission, what would it do during another year of negotiations? Would it double again to $150,000?

But not to worry. By that time, the mayor's appraisal would have risen to $300,000, and all would be well.

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