There’s no doubt acquiring the downtown U-Haul property is strategically crucial for Johnson City if it wants to alleviate flooding, but what if the property owner doesn’t want to move?
A company representative said Monday she was “shocked” when the City Commission voted last week to condemn the property to make way for a stormwater project and that they would like to work things out with the city.
“We heard about it that same day they had the meeting,” said Joanne Fried, U-Haul International public relations director. “We’ve been there for 30 years and have over 200 storage facilities there. We still want to stay there, and we want to work with the city to work things out.”
Public Works Director Phil Pindzola successfully petitioned the City Commission last week to condemn the property, which set in motion the acquisition of the property and the creation of sorely needed flood remediation at the site. Pindzola provided commissioners with evidence that he had diligently tried to communicate this information to the property owner, Phoenix-based AMERCO Real Estate Co.
AMERCO provides real estate and development services to U-Haul, including the acquisition of existing buildings for conversion to self-storage, existing self-storage facilities and land.
In a June 28 letter from Pindzola to AMERCO President Carlos Vizcarra — a letter that followed a June 7 letter that included a formal proposal to purchase the property — Pindzola makes clear that the condemnation process is going forward.
The value of the property was established at $820,000 based on an independent appraisal by the William A. Miller Co. in Gray, but AMERCO still has the option of negotiating with the city on a price.
Pindzola said he’s been talking with Clay McQuade, a U-Haul representative from Knoxville.
“He is going to talk with Vizcarra and see if he can act as the representative so that we can have an open dialogue about relocation and acquisition,” Pindzola said Monday. “I’m actually waiting to hear from him now. We want them to be a part of Johnson City. We’re trying to do this so we can find another viable location. But until we begin a dialogue we cannot proceed.”
Commissioner Clayton Stout, the only commissioner to vote against the move, said it boils down to property rights and that he could not in good conscience vote for the condemnation of an active business.
Stout said Monday that Pindzola and city staff are doing a great job of advancing flood remediation in the city, and that he is committed to helping solve the problem. However, Stout said it was not “in his blood” to violate the sanctity of a private business.
“To me, this is about property rights,” he said. “They’re a functioning business. It is a vital piece of the puzzle, but condemnation is government intrusion into peoples’ lives. I also worry about the legal consequences.”
In the short term, a large retention pond will be built on the property to capture overflow when King Creek floods. The long-range goal is to turn this area of downtown into what is being called the Event Commons, which would be traversed by a newly created path for King Creek running between Boone and Roan streets.
The plan has always been to cure flooding problems while also enhancing aesthetics and economic development by incorporating green space, an outdoor exhibit area, gardens, a promenade, stage and various opportunities for business expansion around the area’s periphery.
“They haven’t told us anything,” Andy Light, manager of the downtown U-Haul, said about AMERCO and U-Haul International.