The sale of this property--owned by the City but being used as a parking lot for the county office building at 325 Columbia Street--was not one of the nine items on the agenda for last night's meeting, but Alderman Cappy Pierro (Fifth Ward), who seems most eager to unload this vacant lot, brought it up at the end of the meeting. The discussion, which was heated at times, often alluded to things of which only members of the committee had knowledge. Pierro suggested at one point that the committee needed to go into executive session, but his suggestion went unheeded by committee chair John Friedman (Third Ward).
Among the bits of information that emerged are these. An appraisal has been ordered for the property, although Friedman expressed the opinion that the property should "go to public auction and let the public decide the price." There is someone who is interested in buying the property to develop it as a commercial parking lot.
During the discussion, Friedman frequently spoke of trying to direct development on that strategic corner. He suggested the possibility of imposing conditions on how the lot should be developed and of soliciting closed bids that included proposals for development and use. In spite of Friedman's interest in applying principles of good urban planning and encouraging the best use of the lot, it was suggested that the City should keep the lot and use it as a parking lot for the proposed senior center at the Armory, although it seems unlikely, to this observer, that seniors will want to trek the long block between Fourth and Fifth streets to get to yoga or Bingo.
Audience member and Fourth Ward resident Linda Mussmann, recalling that the lot was the site of the Fourth Street School, whose demolition in 1994 remains a topic of controversy, called the lot "a key piece of property to the Fourth Ward" and stressed that she did not want to see it developed as "just another parking lot."
Although Pierro pressed to bring a resolution to sell the property before the full Council at its July meeting, and Council president Don Moore affirmed that "the Council has spoken on this," Friedman refused. "We're going to sell this to someone to pave it?" he asked incredulously. "This committee is not endorsing it." He called the idea of developing the land as a parking lot "very shortsighted and a poor use of important land . . . in a neighborhood that is in transition."
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