At a special meeting held on January 12, the Hamilton City Council decided to submit an offer to purchase a 4.78-acre parcel of land located at 220 Foxfield Street, just off Highway 93 behind Higher Ground Brewing.
Mayor Dominic Farrenkopf immediately told the council members to forget about the buy/sell agreement that he had presented to them earlier. He said it had a very limited time frame which had, in fact, already expired as of the day of the meeting. The council was now to consider a buy/sell agreement that would provide for about five and half weeks in which they could obtain an official appraisal, do an environmental assessment of the property, and address any other issues that come up in their due diligence.
The Council has recognized that the city’s Volunteer Fire Department has outgrown the old historic fire hall that it currently occupies on State Street and Third and began looking for another location “many moons ago,” according to the Mayor. The property at 220 Foxfield Street was identified as an attractive place to potentially relocate for a number of reasons. According to Farrenkopf, however, all efforts to contact the property owner, a company they tracked to Texas and later to a couple other states, never responded to their inquiries. As a result, he said, they focused upon a property in the same neighborhood that the city already owns. He said it would be a tight squeeze, but a newly designed fire hall could fit on the spot, but just barely.
The city remained focused on that option, he said, until Christmas Eve. That’s when volunteer firefighter and realtor Will Bolotin saw that the property had been listed and gave the Mayor a call. The Mayor said he took the matter to the Council and the Council members approved pursuing the option, “and we have done it,” he said.
The 4.78-acre property comes with a 40’ by 8o’ warehouse with 16’ ceilings situated on a concrete slab in the middle of the property. The structure has a metal roof and an automatic overhead door. Fire Chief Brad Mohn says the building could be used as a vehicle maintenance shop by the Fire Department. There is also a full perimeter chain link fence around the property.
The newly drafted buy/sell offer is a cash offer for the listing price of $485,000. It would include a $10,000 down payment in earnest money within three days of signing the agreement which would be refundable if the conditions of the buy/sell are not met in the allotted time frame. Closing is proposed for March 1, 2021.
Mohn said that if the City were to build a new fire hall on the property they currently own in the area, they would not have any room to grow. He said if they got this larger property it would be more than what is required now but it would serve them well into the future. He said the department was going to have to look at building a training center at some point which would help them achieve a better ISO rating.
Public Works Director Donny Ramer said the City has been looking for place for a new fire hall for quite some time and this place looks good. He said it is one of the last big centrally located parcels in the City. He said access to and from the property was good and was only going to get better in the future as connections are made to Fairgrounds Road. He said city water and sewer mains run right by the property.
According to City Finance Officer Craig Shepherd, the City has about $650,000 available in CARES Act funding that could be used on building a new fire hall.
Mayor Farrenkopf noted later in the meeting that if the 4.78 acres was purchased, the City would most likely sell the other property they currently own on Foxfield Street. It was purchased some time ago for about $236,000 and has not been appraised since.
City Planner Matthew Rohrbach said that purchase of the property would be congruent with the City’s longterm plans. He said the Fire Department would initially only be using half the property and the other half had lots of potential for various options in the future, including expanding the Fire Department’s operations.
Although council members had lots of questions, most of them got answered during the discussion except for one raised by Council President Claire Kemp who wondered how the realtor/broker representing the City in this process was chosen. She expressed concern that the City had apparently chosen a real estate agent to represent them in the deal without putting out a Request For Proposals (RFP).
Mayor Farrenkopf said that they simply began working with Mr. Bolotin when he brought the listing to their attention and that nothing sneaky was going on. He said the City didn’t need to use Mr. Bolotin or even use any realtor. They could simply have the City Attorney handle it. He said that City Attorney Karen Mahar was involved in discussions over the issue and expressed no concerns about Bolotin’s involvement and even complimented it, saying that she really appreciated what he had done pulling all the paperwork together.
Kemp said that any realtor could have been just as nice and done as good a job but was not given the chance.
Councilor Kristi Bielski agreed, saying, “It’s about fairness in the process. There is a lot of money going to somebody. Any realtor representing the city would get 3% of the selling price. That compensation is set by the seller and would not change with another realtor working instead of Bolotin.”
Mayor Farrenkopf also wondered how and by what criteria the realtor would be chosen, if it is simply something that any realtor can do. He also brought up the time honored issue that in property deals, as it says in the contract, “time is of the essence.” Ramer said that putting out an RFP would involve advertising and accepting proposals, reviewing the proposals and interviewing selected applicants to come up with a short list for a vote and generally takes about two months.
Farrenkopf also noted that the city attorney has been involved in the process and he believed she would have spoken up if an RFP was needed to proceed with the help of a realtor.
Despite some lingering concerns about the lack of an RFP in the process, the Council voted unanimously to submit the buy/sell offer. The City is constrained by law from paying more than the appraised value of the property. It was noted that some other interested parties may bid above the asking price or the appraised value, in which case the whole issue becomes moot.