North Charleston has initiated condemnation proceedings to acquire the 24-acre former fuel storage facility once used by the Navy near Toole Military Magnet School.
The North Charleston City Council passed a resolution Thursday to acquire the property through eminent domain.
"The city has attempted to negotiate the purchase of the property known as the off-base tank farm so that the property may be used for a public purpose," according to a memo to council from Deputy City Attorney Rich Lingenfelter. "The owner of the land will not accept the city's offer and, therefore, the city must exercise the power of eminent domain in a court of law to acquire the property."
As of Monday, the city had not yet filed official condemnation papers in court as both sides hope that a last-minute deal might be reached. By passing the resolution, the city positioned itself to move forward quickly.
The city is offering the owner, Cross Atlantic LLC, $884,000 for the parcel in the Chicora-Cherokee neighborhood.
North Charleston tried to acquire the property in 2004 but was outbid. Cross Atlantic paid $1,050,000 for the property.
The city wants to transform the old tank farm into a park, fire station and affordable housing.
"It will provide needed public facilities in the south end of the city that will be much improved from what we have now," City Councilman Kurt Taylor said.
The Navy removed the tanks at ground level and covered over the remains after it closed the nearby Navy base in 1996, said Robert Ryan with the Charleston Naval Complex Redevelopment Authority. It also placed monitoring wells on the site, he said.
Property owner Anthony Rhodes bought the site so he could move his cramped Big Red Inc. forklift dealership on nearby Jacksonville Road to part of the site and use the rest of the property for other businesses or housing.
Rhodes thought the property was zoned for commercial and residential use, but North Charleston Planning Director Bill Gore said the property has always been zoned for residential use. The city upgraded the land use from multi-family to single-family residential use about two years ago when it changed the land use on about 1,100 properties on the city's south end to single-family use only.
Rhodes and Mayor Keith Summey talked two years ago about swapping a little-used 9-acre city-owned park not far away on Spruill Avenue for the tank farm, with the city paying Rhodes the difference in land values.
Rhodes said he thought he and the city have been close to a deal three times since 2004, but nothing materialized.
"They low-balled me so low that I couldn't accept it," he said of a recent offer.
Rhodes declined to discuss what amount he would accept for the property, but he said it's worth more than the city is offering and what he paid for it because he has maintained the property and paid interest on the loan to acquire it.
"We might work something out," Rhodes said. "But once I know that I'm at an impasse, my gloves are off and I'm going to do whatever I can to protect myself."
Once the city files the official condemnation papers with the court, the city will own the land, North Charleston City Attorney Brady Hair said.
Rhodes can either accept the city's offer or fight for more money in court, Hair said. He called the city's offer fair market value. Rhodes can also challenge the city's right to acquire the land.
"This is the first time the city has gone this far (since North Charleston Coliseum was built in the 1980s)," Taylor said of seeking condemnation. "We want to pay him for what it's worth but not more than what it's worth."