Proposed amendments to an ordinance that governs how the city of Muskogee may dispose of surplus land include a new provision for property acquired or retained for economic development.

The amendments, tentatively approved this past week, were made to codify elements of a pilot program that ended earlier this year. The program increased fees associated with the conveyance of county-owned parcels obtained by the city and conveyed to applicants, mandated additional notice provisions and, in some cases, opened the process to bidders.

When the amendments were presented Tuesday for consideration, an unrelated provision was included to address property acquired for economic development purposes. The language approved this past week would have authorized the direct sale of such land “to any purchaser without competitive bidding for any consideration determined by the city.”

City Attorney Roy Tucker said the provision was included to codify “what our standard practice has been when dealing with this type of property.” The city charter authorizes the sale of property that has “become surplus to any foreseeable need or use ... subject to such regulations as may be prescribed by ordinance or resolution.”

The economic development provision was included with the other amendments, Tucker said, to satisfy charter requirements and streamline the process for future land transactions. He said it also will make it easier for those who might succeed him to understand undertakings initiated today.

Ward I Councilor Lee Ann Langston, however, questioned the language of the added provision, which Tucker agreed to change. She said her initial concern was that “it was way too loose.”

“I feel like we are doing some good things and heading in the right direction,” Langston said about the city’s economic development efforts. “I didn’t want us to get in a predicament where we look back and say we needed to be more specific.”

The initial language made no distinction about who might be eligible to acquire the land, which could be offered below market value as an incentive or enticement. Tucker said he intended the provision to apply only to transactions intended for economic development, but Langston said the initial language could be misconstrued or misapplied.

“Somebody could buy that land, then turn around and sit on it a long time while we might have others who really want to do something with it,” Langston said. “In that case, we would have no control over it, and that might be the best thing for them but not for us.”

Tucker said the intent of the provision “was to sell it to a developer, not someone who would resell the property” for a profit. He later acknowledged the ambiguities and plans to present a revised version of the proposed amendment.

The revision would restrict the sale of such property to “any purchaser for development in accordance with an approved economic development agreement.” Langston said she likes “what he ended up with.”

The amendment is important because of an increase in the city’s economic development efforts, which have included a number of land deals. In addition to its urban renewal development efforts, which include plans for a new shopping center and market-rate apartments, the city has struck a deal to buy 29.3 acres of county-owned land at the intersection of U.S. 69 and Shawnee Bypass.

Rickey Hayes, who provides retail consulting services for the city, said the construction of a QuikTrip travel plaza on the southwest corner of the intersection has sparked interest in land on the remaining three corners. The county acquired most of that land during the 1950s through eminent domain, and commissioners have agreed to sell what it owns there for 80 percent of its appraised value of $4 a square foot — about $4.09 million.

The city bought the county’s interest in the southwest corner pursuant to the same terms, paying $826,596 for a six-acre tract with an appraised value of $1.03 million. City councilors sold the land to QuikTrip at cost, then promised incentives worth up to $815,000 to reimburse the company’s cost of addressing stormwater drainage issues and road improvements.

“QuikTrip construction has started a magnetic and synergistic pull of attention to that area,” Hayes said about the prospects of developing the busy intersection in northwest Muskogee. “We have due diligence — internal due diligence — from a development company and a couple of retailers on that intersection.”

Hayes said there are “a couple” of interested parties in the land on the northeast corner and another entity interested in the southeast corner. Hayes said another potential developer expressed an interest earlier this month in acquiring land the city plans to buy on the northwest corner of the intersection.

If city councilors approve the revised language pertaining to property acquired or retained for “economic development purposes, projects or incentives,” Tucker said, the city’s intent to promote immediate development should be realized. With regard to the no-bid provisions, Tucker said the city is not bound by state laws that prohibit county commissioners from conveying surplus land to private parties outside the bidding process.

City councilors will take up the proposed amendments during their regular bimonthly meeting at 7 p.m. Monday.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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