Anniston City Council resisting McClellan land swap proposal
by Laura Camper
Star Staff Writer
Apr 14, 2011 | 4850 views |  8 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The McClellan Development Authority has had some interest in Reilly Lake (pictured): A nonprofit had approached the MDA about developing the land into a campground. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
The McClellan Development Authority has had some interest in Reilly Lake (pictured): A nonprofit had approached the MDA about developing the land into a campground. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
The Anniston City Council listened to a proposed land swap with the McClellan Development Authority, but resisted the proposal because it would mean withdrawing a 2003 request, made by the previous council, for Reilly and Yahou lakes.

Robin Scott, executive director for the authority, presented the proposal at the City Council’s meeting Tuesday. The authority’s board of directors, which had approved the proposal March 30, is asking that the city council withdraw its requests for Yahou and Reilly lakes and transfer to the authority the title to some city-owned property near the new senior center at McClellan.

In return, the authority would transfer to the city the title to the old theater across from the Aquatic Center currently under construction, an old rail bed that could be used for the Chief Ladiga Trail, a parking lot near Cane Creek Golf Course that the maintenance crew is already using, 11 acres for use by the Long Leaf Botanical Gardens, as well as Monteith Theater and some buildings surrounding it.

“Reilly Lake, as I said, was approved in June 2003,” Scott said. “There were never any formal transfer actions taken after that motion was made and approved by the council. I don’t know the whole history between 2003 to 2008 as to why that deal never closed.”

There was never an official survey of the property at Yahou or Reilly and the request was unspecific as to how many acres would be transferred. The authority is trying to tie up loose ends and wants to know what properties it can market, Scott said.

Councilman John Spain was not persuaded.

“I think I made it quite clear on more than one occasion and after conversations with various council members, that the council is certainly not interested at all in releasing the MDA at all from their obligation of conveying the lake properties to the city,” Spain said. “We have very limited amount of waterfront space and the city certainly intends to use that for the benefit of the citizens of the entire community.”

It’s a view shared by Councilmen Ben Little and Herbert Palmore, but Mayor Gene Robinson and Councilman David Dawson are less set on that course.

The authority has had some interest in Reilly Lake; a nonprofit had approached them about developing it into a campground area. However, with the eight-year-old unfulfilled transfer request, nothing beyond talking about it could happen, Scott told the council members. The campground would bring some economic benefits to the area and if the council withdraws its request, Scott could pursue the matter further, he said.

“Quite honestly, I mean to me, it doesn’t matter who develops it,” Dawson said. “Because if it’s us developing it as a city or them developing it as a board it’s all the same. It’s all going to come back to the same place.”

Palmore though wants to see the city develop the property because that protects it for the public, he said.

“I can’t rely on a company or a business to honor what they say because they’re in business,” Palmore said.

Robinson said he would rather see the council accept the proposal because the transfers that the authority suggested could lead to the economic development the city sorely needs.

“I feel like it’s in the best interest of the city and the council to approve this deal in two weeks,” Robinson said. “Every piece of property we’re talking about is going to be a revenue maker in the city. Now let’s look at the lakes. We’re taking on big liabilities.”

According to the 2010 Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama summer quarterly report, Anniston was ranked number one in the state in its per capita spending for recreational and cultural activities. According to the report it spent $317 per person on recreational and cultural activities including parks, recreation and museums. It’s a badge of honor that Dawson has mentioned in council meetings several times.

Part of the reason may be the city’s dwindling population. The city’s population has fallen for the last five decades. Spain though is optimistic about changing the city’s future.

“We’re hopeful that you’ll see things coming from us in the next few weeks that will certainly stem the tide,” Spain said. “I think that we have huge big plans.”

The issue will be discussed again at the April 26 City Council meeting.

Star staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545.

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