MARIETTA — Tonight could see an emotional showdown between members of Roswell Street Baptist Church and the Marietta City Council.
As the city proceeds with making Roswell Street a four-lane roadway between Fairground Street and Cobb Parkway, it’s now in a six-year-long negotiation with the church over acquiring right-of-way from the church.
The city’s latest offer is $365,982. The church wants $525,000, plus various stipulations.
Ultimately, the city can condemn the property, if the sides fail to reach an agreement.
Tonight, the church is planning to bus hundreds of members to City Hall in support of senior pastor Ernest Easley, who is scheduled to address the City Council.
Church leaders claim the city has not negotiated in good faith, citing higher amounts paid to other owners on Roswell Street.
Mayor Steve Tumlin, though, says the city’s latest offer is based on an appraisal of the actual property.
“Just because two parties don’t agree to the price doesn’t mean we’re not treating them fair,” Tumlin said.
John Crooks, the church’s administrative pastor, said Easley has one appeal.
“He wants the city leaders to be fair in their just and adequate compensation for the land,” Crooks said.
The church owns property on both sides of Roswell Street, both where its main campus is headquartered and across the street where the old Ken Stanton Shopping Center used to be. The church also owns the old Anderson Chevrolet building to the east.
Church officials point out that the city paid nearby Emerson Coffee Shop $15,000 per parking space in 2008, and paid Corona Properties $15,000 per parking spot in 2011 for property at the corner of Atlanta Street and Waverly Way on the South West Corner.
Crooks said the city has refused to pay the church the same amount per parking space.
Yet City Manager Bill Bruton said it is incorrect to say the city paid $15,000 per parking space for the Waverly Way property.
“The end dollar amount was arrived through mediation and included land, parking, consequential damages and impacts to property,” Bruton said.
Church officials say there have been as many as five different proposals as the church and city have negotiated over the years.
Crooks said at one point the plan called for the city to take half of the showroom at the old Anderson Chevrolet place, where the church has offices. That was the first of five proposals the city has made.
In the summer of 2008, Crooks said the city offered to purchase the right-of-way for $400,000.
In response, the church hired appraiser Dick Martin and countered with a proposal of $1.6 million in addition to several stipulations such as the city installing sidewalks in front of the church.
On May 25, 2012, church leaders met with Mayor Steve Tumlin and city attorney Doug Haynie to discuss the city’s offer of $73,000 for 85 church parking spaces.
The next day, the city upped its offer to $199,842, according to a time line of events Crooks provided the Journal.
Last month, the church countered at $525,000, plus various stipulations.
On Nov. 2, the city offered $365,982 with no other considerations or property swaps, according to Crooks’ timeline.
Bruton told the Journal that is the appraised value of the property.
The city also wants to take 20,890 square feet of right-of-way, 8511 square feet with a temporary easement, and 8,580 square feet with a permanent easement.
Bruton said the project is part of the city’s overall goal of making Roswell Street four lanes between Cobb Parkway to the Square, along with installing a median and sidewalks. The city has already four-laned the stretch of Roswell from the Square to Fairground Street at a cost of about $40 million over the last 15 years, Bruton said.
“We feel like we have been discriminated against,” Crooks said. “We don’t feel like we’ve been treated fairly in that now, at the last hour the process has changed. According to Dr. Easley, we just want the city to treat us fairly and to compensate us for what we believe is a fair and appropriate amount of money for parking spots along Roswell Street.”
Crooks said the problem is that the city is valuing the parking spots on a per-square-foot basis.
“We’re valuing them against what the city’s already paid for parking,” he said.
Crooks also pointed out what good neighbors the church has been.
“We’ve invested $13.5 million over the past seven years in renovating our facilities to stay and minster in our radius community,” he said. “We want to be there. We want to be good neighbors. We just want to be treated fairly.”
Bruton said the city does not need any of the parking spaces on the main church site.
“The spaces they own that would be impacted are on other nearby properties owned by the church,” Bruton said. “The only spaces that are going to be impacted along the main church frontage are public spaces currently owned by the city. They do not currently count as spaces toward any parking requirements.”
Bruton said on sites owned by the church near the main church site but across Roswell Street and Aviation Street, the parking required by the zoning ordinance is 289 spaces according to the appraisal. Currently there are 399 spaces on those properties.
“With all the proposed street improvements and reconfiguring as proposed in the appraisal, there would be 373 parking spaces at the end of construction,” Bruton said. “The church has also asked for substantial property that the city owns.”
Tumlin said the city is not discriminating against the church.
“We’re treating them fair,” he said. “We’re basing it on appraisals. We’re not basing it on arbitrary and capricious items.”
Comparing Roswell’s property to Emerson’s is not an apples-to-apples comparison, Tumlin said. Emerson had very few parking spaces to begin with.
“Sometimes you look at not only what was taken, but you also look at what is left,” Tumlin said. “Emerson on its face makes it look like maybe we paid an unusual premium, but it’s what they were left with. I’m not a professional appraiser, I’m not even a professional negotiator, but things like Emerson … if you wipe out 90 percent of their parking, then they get a bigger premium.”
Tumlin said tonight’s meeting contains two agenda items on the subject. One is for the city to proceed with condemnation proceedings. Tumlin said such a decision should be a last resort. The other is for the church and city to bring in an arbitrator to reach a decision.
“I want the church to get the ultimate in fairness, but we can’t go beyond what our legal constraints are,” Tumlin said. “Just like they’re a trustee for the church’s money, we’re governed by laws. We would have to have a basis that is consistent with appraisals, and right now our differences are so great we couldn’t say the appraisal is off give or take 10 percent. We’re not there. We couldn’t arbitrarily and capriciously say, ‘hey, you all made a great case. We can throw our appraisals out the window.’”
Tumlin also addressed the point about why the plans have changed, noting that’s what happens when the city relies on changing revenue streams such as SPLOST dollars and federal stimulus dollars.
“I agree with their frustration, but we’re not discriminating against them,” Tumlin said.
The City Council meets tonight beginning at 6 p.m. in the Council Chamber of City Hall for its agenda review meeting, located at 205 Lawrence St. in Marietta. The regular meeting immediately follows at 7 p.m.Atlanta News, Weather, Traffic, and Sports | FOX 5