City Commission to consider U-Haul property deal

Gary B. Gray • Apr 17, 2013 at 9:38 PM

Though the dollar amount has not yet been revealed, the City Commission tonight will consider a property settlement agreement in which the city would pay U-Haul for its downtown property and litigation between the two would cease.

Erick Herrin, who is representing Johnson City in a suit brought by the company to halt its removal from 114 W. King St. for use as a flood mitigation project, said Tuesday that U-Haul is aware of the offer and its attorneys are communicating with the company.

The question now is whether commissioners will agree the offer is fair.

On March 7, 2012, U-Haul launched its legal protest over the condemnation of the property in Washington County Circuit Court, claiming it was not being taken under eminent domain for the public good but for private economic development and commercial enterprise.

By that time, the city had been working for months to get U-Haul to accept an $820,000 offer and to undergo negotiations in which the city would help the company relocate within Johnson City. Public Works Director Phil Pindzola said at the time that communication had simply come to a standstill.

Herrin said this week he did not want to give the specifics until he had an opportunity for commissioners to review the offer.

“It is a monetary settlement that would end all litigation. I’ve been in negotiations with U-Haul, and they’re in the same position I am. They (attorneys) will be telling their clients what I’ll be telling mine,” he said

Herrin said at this point it will be up to commissioners to give him direction.

In February, the Eastern Section of the Tennessee Court of Appeals in Knoxville denied the company’s request to review a November decision by Circuit Court Judge Thomas Seeley that gave Johnson City the go-ahead to possess and demolish U-Haul’s site.

That moved the case back into Seeley’s hands, and the two parties have been waiting for the judge to set a date for a 12-person jury trial to determine what the city should pay to compensate the company for its property.

Commissioners also will consider a roughly $3.6 million bid from Nashville-based Stansell Electric Co. to complete the city’s Intelligent Traffic System project

The project will employ fiber optic/Ethernet into an interconnected system which operates traffic signals and cameras and sends visual and other information back to the division’s office. There, engineers can observe traffic patterns and manipulate signal timing to allow for better flow. The system includes 43 high-tech cameras that rotate to give engineers an expanded, real-time view of heavily traveled corridors.

The Federal Highway Administration is providing 80 percent of the costs. The state and Johnson City each will provide 10 percent matches. Traffic Engineer Anthony Todd said this equates to about $400,000 for the city.

Todd said the system will allow city technicians to see a “bigger picture” of traffic flow.

“The cameras are for monitoring traffic,” he said. “You want to be able to see if traffic is progressing or if it is backing up. The digital technology also will allow us to do traffic counts. The information will go back to the central office where traffic technicians will view it on a numbers of monitors with split screens. We will be able to detect a change in traffic and remotely change the timing of traffic signals.”

Commissioners also will consider a 5-year beverage sponsorship agreement with Pepsi Bottling Co. to provide services at Freedom Hall. They also will consider new appointments and reappointments to the city’s Senior Center Advisory Council.

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