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Councilors nix zoo land purchase

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Councilors: Property near zoo not a ‘necessity’ at this time

Roswell city councilors unanimously agreed Thursday not to purchase some property adjacent to the Spring River Zoo.

The vote was 10-0 against buying about 1.24 acres at 1101 N. Atkinson Ave., just south of the pond area of the zoo.

The parcel has several structures on it, including buildings that have rentable living spaces.

Members of the Legal Committee agreed 3-1 on Jan. 28 to forward the matter to the full council.

According to City Manager Job Neeb, the possibility of the city purchasing the land and structures arose as the city was cleaning up the drained pond. They met the property owner, Britt Bourque, and negotiated to use her property to maneuver some equipment after removing a city fence that bordered her acreage.

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They found out that she was interested in selling and, after an appraisal, offered her $415,000. The appraisal firm thought the property and structures were worth $300,000 on their own, but could be considered worth $415,000 as an active rental property. Bourque has said that she thinks the property is worth about $650,000.

Bourque has said that she bought the parcel in 2007 and has renovated some of the buildings. The main house now has three furnished units. A separate cottage has another unit, and a storage building has been partially renovated and could become another rental unit. There are also a carport and another building at the site.

Bourque rents the units as Cozy Cowboy Cottages and said that three nurses live there now.

Neeb had said that the city could continue to rent the units in the short term, providing units for police, fire and health care professionals who are needed in Roswell but sometimes have difficulty finding housing.

In the long term and after “significant” investment and work, Neeb said, the property could become an educational and activities center for the zoo and the adjacent Spring River Park.

Several city councilors said that buying the property could be considered an unnecessary expense out of the general fund at a time when federal, state and city finances are still uncertain due to ongoing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

“I do hope that one day that this comes back to us if it does not pass today,” said Jason Perry. “I see great potential there. But under our current economic status and with not needing the property at this time as more of necessity, I have those reservations.”

Perry and Jacob Roebuck added that city staff should not consider the vote a rejection of their efforts and praised them for recognizing possible opportunities for the city.

Councilor Juan Oropesa asked several questions about the costs involved and other topics, including what happened to plans to develop an events pavilion at the former Cahoon Park pool. Neeb said those plans are on hold now.

“Obviously my questions deal with the concern of the amount of money that we will need to invest in this,” Oropesa said. “As far as I am concerned, in my opinion, I believe this to be like a luxury item instead of a necessity. I personally believe that there are other necessities that we need to look at, such as securing property for the expansion of the wastewater facility that we have been working on for the last three or four years and maybe even longer than that.”

Bourque said after the meeting that she was surprised by the decision, which she characterized as a bit “short-sighted.”

“I tried to explain to them that the property has $6,000 a month in net income, not gross income,” she said. “It could have more than carried itself until they decided on a plan.”

She said she would like to talk with city employees about how to “beautify” the area so that both the city and her parcel can benefit. She also said that the city might have to replace the fence now.

She explained to city councilors during the meeting that some of the buildings were “fixer uppers,” but she also described the property later as unique and one that could be used to improve the zoo area.

She said she isn’t sure at this point whether she will seek another buyer. She said it is also a possibility that she could move forward with her own plans to develop the site as a wedding and events venue.

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.