You might call it mission creep. Thursday night, city council members took a small step toward giving a developer first right of refusal on buying park property the city plans to sell.

The council authorized the city’s legal staff to draw up papers for the transaction, but didn’t actually approve the idea yet.

Under a revision of McKnight Park’s master plan, 6.05 acres at the southern end of McKnight Park are viewed as surplus and will be sold. Since this affects the shape of a project being developed on adjoining parcels, a developer has asked the city to give it first right of refusal when the city finally sells the land.

Assistant City Manager Jim Crumley explained that the city is simply asking the council for direction on how to proceed

The unusual procedure is necessary because the land was acquired with the aid of federal funds. Federal rules on disposal of such park land could put off any sale of this property for perhaps two years or more. The developer, IPM, a Tennessee partnership, is asking for some degree of certainty so it can determine its plans for the land around the parcel.

My question was why there isn’t a procedure of calling for bids when the city disposes of surplus property. So far, my inquiry to  the city attorney has not been answered.

IPM’s partners, Robert L. Kirby and Jewell M. Hale, began talking to the city in April about buying the property since they are also acquiring four other properties between the 6.05 acres and Memorial Boulevard.

Deed restrictions are involved

Federal rules for disposing of park property bought in part with federal funds  would require a complicated “conversion” process first. The disposal would have to be approved by the Secretary of the Interior, must follow a realistic appraisal, and there must be a replacement of the land being lost to the city with property of equal value. In addition, there must be two appraisals on the property before it is sold.

The city staff report says time has become critical to IPM in developing the adjacent properties. The developers need assurance that they can buy the property, but the city is in no position at this time to come up with a reasonable price. Crumley said it may be two years before the city is ready to buy a parkland property of equal value.

Agreement would eliminate any call for bids on parcel

The right of first refusal gives IPM the assurances it needs but gives the city time to complete the conversion process.

The city staff estimates that the development planned by IPM could bring in $125,000 per year to the city general fund in sales taxes and another $125,000 to city and county schools. Annual property taxes are projected at between $30,000 and $40,000 a year.