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U-Haul plans to fight city hall over condemned property

July 25th, 2011 11:36 pm by Gary B. Gray

Phoenix-based AMERCO Real Estate Co., U-Haul’s parent company, wants its downtown Johnson City business to stay right where it is, despite the city’s recent condemnation of the property.
“There’s not much the city can do that’s going to make us happy,” Joanne Fried, U-Haul International public relations director, said Monday. “We will fight the condemnation process. We don’t want this to go to court, but we’ve done this before.”
AMERCO President Carlos Vizcarra has talked with City Manager Pete Peterson and expressed his desire to stay at the current location and that remodeling work at the property was forthcoming, Fried said.
“But the city denied that,” she said. “The company also submitted a $5 million plan to create a viaduct there. That was turned down. It costs much more than people think to close down a site. It will cost much more than what we get to build new facilities and to relocate. It would cost more than $1 million to build new storage facilities. And what about our customers? It will be tough to retain existing customers.”
Public Works Director Phil Pindzola said he has been in contact with Clay McQuade, U-Haul’s regional president in Knoxville. McQuade has been assigned to negotiate with Pindzola and the city. But the going has been slow, and Pindzola — who has been contacted by the Johnson City Press virtually every other day about the status of negotiations — has said responses have not come quickly.
He also said any plan for a $5 million viaduct “must be sitting on some desk other than mine.”
“I haven’t seen any plan for a viaduct,” Pindzola said. “I think I would know about it, and I think I would have been one of the first to see it.”
Pindzola said he’s been told that the company has been “bombarded” with offers for alternative sites.
“We’ve been talking, and he (McQuade) said he was going to try to get Vizcarra down here to look at some sites,” he said. “We’ve sent them a letter asking for a time table by which they can make their decisions on relocation and any other elements of discussion we need to entertain.”
On July 7, prior to a vote to condemn the property at 114 W. King St. where U-Haul currently is doing business, Pindzola told the City Commission that communication between the city and the company had come to a standstill.
Commissioners voted 4-1 to condemn the property, which is needed to complete one of three main phases to its longterm stormwater improvement plan. The city has offered the company $820,000 for the property based on an independent appraisal. The city also has offered to help relocate the business in Johnson City.
Under the city charter, which is supported by state law, municipalities have the right of eminent domain, which includes the condemnation and acquisition “for present or future public use.” Tennessee law adds that the action is permissible should “the public welfare” require it.
The city plans to build a large detention pond 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.
Attempts to reach Vizcarra have thus far been unsuccessful. McQuade was not immediately available.
It appears that money remains at the center of negotiations.
“It would be fine if we were paid a fair price,” Fried said.

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