At a special meeting on Tuesday, November 19, the Stevensville Town Council decided not to exercise its Right of First Refusal on a 26.4-acre parcel of land adjacent to its well field. The decision was finally made after four motions died due to a lack of a second and a fifth failed in a tie vote. The only motion to pass prior to making the final decision was a vote to allow public comment.
The issue came before the council because the town holds a Right of First Refusal on a 26.4 acre parcel of land adjoining the town’s well field located next to the Twin Creeks Subdivision off Middle Burnt Fork. An offer was made on the property for $185,000 by a third party near the end of October. The town had 30 days from that offer, that is until November 20 at 9:30 pm, to exercise its Right of First Refusal or lose the option.
The Public Works Department recommended exercising the right and purchasing the property for $185,000. The property had recently been appraised at over $200,000. Public Works Director George Thomas said that the property was critical in protecting the town’s water rights and providing an area to place new wells.
Council member Patrick Shourd moved to exercise the Town’s right and purchase the property but the motion died due to lack of a second.
When Mayor Brandon Dewey said he wasn’t sure what the outcome meant, Council President Steve Gibson said, “I guess it means that we don’t buy the land. I would suggest that we, you and the attorney get together with the buyer and look at a possible easement or a split.”
Town Attorney Scott Owens said that would be problematic.
“So, we don’t buy the land,” said Gibson.
Owens said that the land was important to the future of the town’s water system.
Gibson said that he went with the Public Works Director to view the site and also to see another piece of property the town owns. Gibson said that other property would do just as well as this one. He said he takes it on good faith that the buyer will keep his promise to allow an easement.
“If not we have another piece of land,” he said.
Public Works Director George Thomas said that the property was critical to protecting the town’s current infrastructure as well as being crucial to its future development. He said the pond located on that property was crucial to maintain the town’s current water rights to the wells in the well field.
Gibson said that the council has made its will clear. He said they were not buying the land and moved to adjourn. But the motion died due to lack of a second.
Councilor Robin Holcomb said that she had some questions. She asked about available funds and about the property’s appraisal value.
Gibson asked the Mayor if he had written authorization from the appraiser to release the information publicly.
Mayor Dewey stated that he had the appraiser’s verbal permission but had not received the written permission yet.
Holcomb asked Christa Wortman, a previous owner of the property, to talk about it.
Wortman said that when the deal was made to purchase the property for the well field, it was recognized that the adjoining acreage with the pond was critical to the big picture. But given the unusual amount of expenditures at the time, it was decided to postpone the purchase of the adjoining land but place a Right of First Refusal on the property reserving the right to purchase it in the future.
She said it took years to work out the deal with DNRC in order to make it feasible to install the well field and the pond is tied to those rights. She said the town recognized the need for it then and that the need is still critical. She said it would be a bad decision to walk away from it now.
“You need the property for those wells,” she said.
The Council then voted to suspend the rules and allow general public comment on the issue.
Rebecca Reeves, who along with her husband made the offer to buy the property, said that she and her husband just wanted to live there. She said they were willing to allow the town an easement for placing new wells on the property and weren’t interested in disturbing the pond.
“We want the pond just to look at,” she said. She said they would need to hook up to the town’s water and sewer and were interested in working with the town to meet their needs.
Jeff Motley spoke in favor of exercising the town’s right and purchasing the property. He said this would secure the town’s interest and then they could sell the property to the third party with appropriate easements in place.
Gibson said that he had faith in the purchaser’s offer and it would save the trouble of buying and re-selling the property.
“I think we can work with the buyer and I think they are willing to work with us,” he said.
Gibson moved to NOT exercise the Town’s right of First Refusal. But the motion died due to lack of a second.
Shourd then moved for the Town to exercise its right and purchase the property. But that motion also died due to a lack of second.
Gibson moved again for the council to adjourn. But that motion also died for lack of a second.
More public comment was taken and then Gibson moved again to adjourn. This time it was seconded but it failed in a tie vote with Holcomb and Gibson voting for it, but Shourd and Dempsey Vick voting against it.
A ten-minute recess was taken.
Upon reconvening, it was quickly moved and seconded by Gibson and Vick to NOT exercise the town’s right of first refusal. Vick said he agreed with Gibson that it was a “private property thing.”
“If they choose to do the easements, great,” he said. “I’ve got to stand by life, liberty and private property.”
It was approved 3 to 1 to NOT exercise the town’s Right of First Refusal. Holcomb, Gibson and Vick voted not to exercise the Town’s right and Shourd cast the dissenting vote.