MOUNT PLEASANT — Town Council voted Wednesday to spend $6 million to acquire 43 acres of Shem Creek property, thus settling its condemnation lawsuit against the owners of about an acre of the land known as the OK Tire property.
"We're glad it's behind us," said Town Administrator Mac Burdette.
After an executive session, council voted unanimously to authorize Mayor Harry Hallman to sign the agreement with property owners Mark Mason and Phillip Smith.
The town and the property owners will meet to close the deal Dec. 18, said Town Attorney Allen Young.
Under the agreement, the town will acquire a section of creekfront known as the Bailey Docks.
"Getting the docks is very important," Burdette said. It means the town could build a public creekfront that goes from a park at the OK Tire property near Coleman Boulevard down to the Bailey Docks just past Vickery's all the way to the harbor, Burdette said.
"It's a great day. It will allow us to have true water access for the general public," he said. Funds for the purchase will come from the town Tax Increment Financing District. He said the town would likely want to talk to other creek property owners about acquiring more property for public use.
If the town and the property owners had not reached agreement, a circuit judge was scheduled to hear arguments Dec. 19 on the property owners' motion to dismiss the town condemnation suit.
Young said that Hallman will sign the documents agreeing to the purchase today. "It ends the lawsuit completely," Young said.
On Oct. 10, Young issued a statement that under the authority council had delegated to him, he would file a $2,285,000 condemnation action for the OK Tire property. Mason and Smith countered that the property was worth $4.6 million. Earlier, council made a $6 million offer for the OK Tire property and the Bailey Docks. Mason and Smith wanted more than $7.6 million. Council did not specify how much the town will pay for the OK Tire property.
The acrimonious negotiations were marked by Mason's threats to obtain the hard drives of council members' computers to reconstruct e-mails he said had been purposely deleted because they concerned town business. He alleged that town business was being done under the radar by e-mail. Mason, an attorney, also alleged other violations of the state Freedom of Information Act. He was not immediately available for comment late Wednesday night.
Mason planned to put 24 condominiums on the OK Tire land and 24 floating boat slips on Shem Creek. In 2005, the town offered $2 million for the OK Tire property and the Bailey Docks on Shem Creek, which are small docks shrimpers use.
In other action, council voted 5-3 to hold an advisory referendum March 18 on whether council should have extended its terms by 14 months. Six months ago, council moved its next election date from September 2008 to November 2009 with the idea of increasing election turnout. In the last election in September of 2006, only 11 percent of registered voters participated.
The advisory referendum is not binding. Under state law, council members cannot be elected to other than two-year or four-year terms. Opponents of the term extension that council voted for itself said voters should choose candidates elected to an additional 14 months. For an election to happen for four-year and 14-month terms, state law would have to be changed. Hallman and Councilmen Billy Swails and Nick Collins voted against the referendum. Hallman said he wants to revisit the issue next month when Mayor Pro Tem Kruger Smith is back in town.
Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711 or email@example.com.