Thursday, March 21st, 2013
By William Kincaid
City unable to find buyer for lot
Council studies lowering price, selling former Piper property to charity
  CELINA - City administrators were asked to come up with a new minimum price for a residentially-zoned city lot after a recent public sale yielded no bids.
Safety service director Tom Hitchcock told council members during a buildings and grounds committee meeting this week the city received neither bids nor inquiries about the 134-by-137 foot lot - also known as the former Piper property - at 501 W. Warren St.
After discussing the matter, including a suggestion to sell the lot at an economical price to a local charitable organization, council members asked administrators to put a reduced price tag on the parcel, perhaps as low as two-thirds its assessed market price of $37,790.
Councilman Jeff Larmore said he wasn't surprised the city didn't attract any bids.
In May 2010, the city took control of the former blighted property that had upset neighbors for many years. The city paid owner Ron "Butch" Piper $54,369 to demolish and clean up the land.  After purchasing the property, the city rezoned it residential.
"St. John Builders are looking for property to donate a house to an indigent family in Celina," councilman Bill Sell said. "And they realize that the city isn't about giving their property away, but they were wondering if there'd be any way that the city could give a reduced price to them."
Sell said the idea sounds good on the surface, but he knows it could bring forth public criticism.
"At the same time, it's sat there now for quite a while," Sell said. "There've been no bids on it. So at least it would be utilized in a positive way for somebody that would really use it and could need it."
City law director George Moore was asked to research whether the city is permitted to donate residential property.
Councilman Jeremy Hinton said he has no problem with helping people out like the St. John Builders or selling the lot at a lower price.
"But ultimately, I think we got to do our due diligence to the taxpayers," Hinton said about recapturing money invested in the lot.
Larmore agreed with Hinton, pointing out council told the public it would try to recoup the general fund money it spent having the building torn down and the land cleared.
"I think we should stick to our guns on that," he said.
Councilman Mike Sovinski suggested the city bundle the lot with the utility services building, which the city plans on unloading once all of its departments are moved into the First Financial Bank building the city is buying.
A private entity may be able to take advantage of tax benefits if it decided to donate the lot to a charitable organization, he said.
Larmore said reducing the price on the lot so a residence can be built there makes the most sense as it would bring a long-term utility customer.
"That's where the payback is," he said.
Councilman Ed Jeffries also recommended the city ask St. John Builders if they would be interested in a vacant city lot on Morton Street near the public works building.
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