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City to proceed with Air Center land sale

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The Roswell City Council has approved the sale of property to Ergon Asphalt and Emulsions three years after talks first began. Some steps still have to occur before a sale is final. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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The city will proceed with plans to sell some Roswell Air Center land to an asphalt company, a decision that follows months of debate and a “no-sale” push by local business leaders who said a long-term lease would better serve the city and its citizens.

The sale is also contingent now on changing the zoning of one of the two parcels from residential to industrial.

The Roswell City Council voted 6-4 Thursday night to approve the sale of about 13 acres to Ergon Asphalt and Emulsions Inc., a Mississippi-based company with 60 sites in Mexico and the United States. Its local operation at 45 E. Martin St. employs seven people.

Councilors Juan Oropesa, Jason Perry, Angela Moore and George Peterson voted against the sale.

The governing body also approved a related rail spur maintenance agreement, 8-2, with Oropesa and Peterson voting against it.

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Ergon is “thankful for the city leadership working with us to get this approved and looking forward to many years of continuing to work with the city and grow our business in the community,” Drew Brooks, senior vice president of business development, said in an email after the votes.

Ergon wants to purchase the land to expand its operations, which includes adding a $2 million storage tank to its site. Work should begin by early 2021, Brooks said.

City Manager Joe Neeb and Ergon officers had talked about the sale for about three years before the matter was introduced to the public at a meeting in March.

A suggestion that the city needed a second appraisal, one that took into account the value of rail spurs, meant that the Roswell City Council did not consider the matter until fall.

But even then, the governing body voted twice to delay a vote. In September, after a closed session, the group asked the city manager to continue negotiations with the company for unspecified reasons. A publicly known outcome of those talks was that Ergon agreed to give the city a 20-year right of first refusal to buy the property should the company decide to sell the land.

In October, the City Council voted again to postpone to see if the city and the company could instead agree to terms for a long-term lease.

The lease option was the one preferred by some business leaders, including a few who belong to the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. and served on an Air Center task force.

Bud Kunkel, Kyle Armstrong and Kurt Gass were among those who spoke against the sale, and Kunkel said he continues to believe that selling Air Center property is putting short-term cash gain before long-term strategic value.

“The City Council made a decision that doesn’t benefit the taxpayers or the citizens of Roswell,” said Kunkel.

He said two separate economic feasibility studies and several airport authority managers had advised against selling property.

Kunkel said he doesn’t plan to protest the sale and isn’t aware of anyone intending to launch a referendum against it. An election to overturn the sale is possible if people collect signatures from at least 15% of the city voters wanting a vote on the issue. That petition would have to be submitted within 30 days, according to City Attorney Parker Patterson.

Neeb would not give details about why terms on a long-term lease could not be reached, but he reassured councilors that “good faith efforts” by both parties had been made.

“We were able to come to consensus on most of the terms, but there were some things we just couldn’t meet up with,” he said, “so that put the business into the thought process that purchasing the property looked like the best option.”

The terms of the sale are that Ergon will pay the city $340,000, which is intended to go to Air Center operations. It had been paying about $1,030 a month for a lease due to expire in 2028.

Ergon also will agree to pay up to $20,000 a year to maintain the two city-owned rail spurs on the property, with the right to renegotiate if there is a change to spur usage. Previously, Ergon was legally obligated to pay $5,000 a year, although it sometimes paid more.

The sale price is below the market value determined by the second appraisal. That put the value of the parcels at $430,000. But the city and Ergon said the site improvements and other work the company will do in the area more than makes up the $90,000 difference.

That work includes planting trees around the property to provide a buffer between the site and the nearby homes, closing portions of roads that cross the rail spurs, and the construction of a new road and cul-de-sac to reconnect Airport Road to Earl Cummings Loop. Ergon estimates the cost of the new road at $293,350.

Ergon also said it recently found out that one of the two parcels is zoned residential, but wants it rezoned industrial.

“We really can’t do anything for future development with residential property with us operating as an industrial business,” Brooks said. “Thus we need the rezoning for future development.”

The city would apply for rezoning, but the initial decision will be made by the city of Roswell Planning and Zoning Commission. If the commission does not approve a rezoning, the city would have to appeal to the City Council.

If the rezoning occurs and the sale proceeds without a call for a referendum from voters, the sale will not be final until the state reviews the matter.

Councilors voting in favor of the agreements said they want to support a business and employer that produces a product needed in the area. They also said they did not hear opposition from Air Center residents and think that the Air Center has plenty of other land available for future development.

Those who opposed the agreements expressed concerns about the rezoning request, the road closure and possible resulting traffic congestion, the proximity of industrial operations near homes and the concerns about losing control of a property with rail spurs on it. Moore also said she didn’t like Ergon “forcing the hand of the city” regarding a sale instead of a lease and the rezoning request.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.