Council tables EDC request to buy downtown buildings

Image: The Closet Store and condemned Community Center, Italy, Texas

The Closet Store and condemned Community Center, Italy, Texas

The Italy City Council voted Monday evening to table any action regarding a request from the Italy Economic Development Corporation to purchase two pieces of McConnell property located at 101 and 108 East Main Street.

Randy Muirhead addressed the council and requested they table any decisions regarding the matter until they look at all avenues regarding the tearing down of historical buildings and construction of a new community center.

Muirhead said he grew up in Italy and is old enough to remember when businesses in the downtown area flourished. He said it did not matter whether you were a business owner, farmer, rancher or housewife; each person contributed to the history of the community.

He asked the council to research grants to restore the downtown buildings rather than tearing them down.

Muirhead read a letter from Karen Mathiowetz, Italy resident, who was unable to attend the meeting. She requested the council slow down and research all possibilities regarding the historical significance of the buildings. He presented packets to each council member listing various historic preservation firms in the Metroplex, detailed instruction entitled Four Steps to Heritage Tourism Development and a preservation grant guide. Also included in the packet was a letter to the mayor from Elizabeth Butman with the Texas Historical Commission.

Her letter requested the city and IEDC fully explore all options, including historical aspects, for the future of the former community center and McConnell building.

Last month the Italy EDC passed a resolution to purchase the two pieces of property at 101 and 108 East Main Street for $65,000. The IEDC was initially interested in purchasing the property known as the Closet Store with the intention of tearing it down along with the former community center at the corner of Main Street and Harpold Street. The McConnell family refused to sell the two pieces of property separately.

Cam Fearis of Waxahachie did an appraisal on the two pieces of property in question.

The properties are valued at $49,390 and $18,950 – a total of $68,340 – according to the Ellis County Appraisal District tax records.

Diego Garcia, an Italy resident, asked the city if the IEDC did a building inspection on the two pieces of property. He said an inspection is just as important as an appraisal.

Council member Rodney Guthrie questioned why someone from the city had not been inside to inspect the buildings to say yea or nay to the proposed purchase.

In a rather heated exchange, Tom Little, IEDC board member, asked Muirhead if he lived in the city limits.

Muirhead said he lived outside the city limits but spent 25 years in the city and still owns property within the city limits.

Teri Murdock, city administrator, said the agenda items were just to purchase the property. She said the IEDC has made no firm decision as to what to do once they purchase the property.

Mayor Frank Jackson said he talked with Butman and Larry Felty with the Ellis County Historical Society today.

He said the city is not necessarily tearing down the buildings, just opting to buy the buildings.

Little said the IEDC has spent hours thrashing out this item and said, “Not one of you were there. You are denying Mrs. McConnell the opportunity to sell the buildings.”

Muirhead again reiterated, “We want to preserve the downtown area.”

Council member and IEDC board member Mark Souder Sr. said the IEDC would have to hold a public hearing to adopt another resolution once they purchase the property.

Muirhead concluded his comments by urging the council not to act in haste. He said he was not trying to stop the IEDC from purchasing the property, just wanted all avenues explored before any demolition might begin.

Guthrie said he felt they were putting the cart before the horse.

He questioned the city’s liability by purchasing the building next to the former community center since water damage has occurred to the building on the other side as well as to the former community center.

Murdock said the building’s owner could not hold the city responsible for damages that have already occurred.

Guthrie agreed but said the IEDC needs to decide what to do immediately. He said, “At some point, the city will be held responsible for those damages. How much is it going to take to restore them once you purchase them? We need to explore other avenues first.”

He then made the motion to table the three agenda items regarding the purchase of the McConnell property. The motion passed.

Tour d ’Italia
Judy Rowe requested approval from the city to form a committee for the annual bike ride held each June in Italy.

Rowe said she has lived here for five years and is surprised that the city does not do more to promote the town during this event.

She said the Lone Star Cyclists, event sponsor, raises money that benefits students at Italy High School, MADD and other North Texas charities.

Rowe suggested getting various bike-related vendors in town that day and offer bike safety clinics.

“I think it would be good to promote Italy; I would like to see them really feel welcomed. They need to see a neater, fresher place.” She continued, “We should show our appreciation.”

Greg Richards, council member, made the motion to allow Rowe to follow through with plans. The motion passed unanimously.

Citizens comments
Joan Grabowski and Little both addressed the council regarding the fireworks ordinance.

Grabowski said the city should rescind the ordinance since it is not enforced.

Little asked why the city had an ordinance they do not enforce.

Other business
A highlight to the meeting was a proclamation recognizing the 2010 1A Italy Lady Gladiators softball team that won bi-district, area and regional quarterfinal championships as regional semi-finalists.

The mayor read the proclamation that lauded the girls and coaches Jennifer Reeves, Tina Richards and Andi Windham.

Jackson told the girls and coaches in attendance that he wanted to read a proclamation next year naming them state champions.

Each member received a copy of the proclamation.

In other business, Gary Murrey with Murrey and Co, PC, presented the city’s 2008-2009 audit.

The council approved a new contract with Bowman H20 regarding the monthly operation of the wastewater treatment plant at a cost of $1,700 per month. The contract will go into effect Oct. 1.

The council also authorized the mayor and city administrator to investigate various engineering firms.

The city has done business with the Brannon Corporation of Tyler for several years. The engineer they dealt with is no longer with the firm.

They also approved minutes of the June 14 meeting, bills and earned compensatory time.

Department reports
Lt. Tom Peyton presented the June police reports in the absence of C.V. Johns, police chief.

Officers received 84 calls to service and made five arrests during the month. Officers worked/trained 1,290 hours. The warrant officer made one contact and closed two warrants. The animal control officer received two calls to service and issued two warnings. The code enforcement officer received 22 complaints and issued warnings on 20 of them. He issued verbal and written warnings on seven self-initiated areas of concern.

Manuela Martin, municipal court clerk, said the police department issued 514 citations in June. They sent 166 collection notices on outstanding tickets and cleared seven warrants.

Murdock read the public works report in the absence of a public works director.

Murdock said she is beginning the early stages of the budget for 2010-2011 and is updating various ordinances. She said street repair projects should begin in August.

She said a called meeting is set for Thursday, July 15, at 6:30 p.m. to interview for a new public works director.

Prior to adjournment, Guthrie, Richards and newly appointed board member Bruce Utley thank the citizens for attending the meetings and voicing their concerns.