published Friday, August 28th, 2009

Commission OKs Signal Mountain school building sale to developer


by Matt Wilson

After an hour and a half of debate and a quick meeting with their attorney, Hamilton County commissioners voted 9-0 Thursday to sell the old Signal Mountain Middle School to a developer who wants to turn it into an athletic center.

"It's a very, very bad deal," Commissioner Fred Skillern said. "But what other option do we have?"

Commissioners agreed to sell the property to developer Tom Poteet for $800,000 plus two pieces of property in Soddy-Daisy adjacent to Soddy-Daisy High School.

Upon the suggestion of Commissioner Richard Casavant, the commission insisted that restrictions written into the property's zoning also be included in the deed. Such restrictions lock future owners into sticking to those conditions, Dr. Casavant and other commissioners said.

Mr. Poteet expressed some hesitation about that provision, saying it would place "an undue burden" on him.

Before the commissioners' meeting with County Attorney Rheubin Taylor, Dr. Casavant and Commissioner Curtis Adams indicated that they were not going to vote in favor of the sale.

"To turn around and rebid it would be more appropriate," Dr. Casavant said.

He reiterated his earlier point that he believes the property is worth more than Mr. Poteet offered. Dr. Casavant went on to say that he didn't think the club would bring in enough revenue to be sustainable.

Mr. Poteet said he has "personally done the due diligence" and believes the club will make money. He agreed that the property could be sold for more, but only if the Signal Mountain Town Council allowed a store or other business to locate there.

Signal Mountain Mayor Bill Lusk said that wouldn't happen.

All nine commissioners voted to sell the property after Mr. Taylor told them in private about a conversation he had in July with Mr. Poteet's attorney.

Mr. Poteet didn't directly say he planned to sue the county if his offer was turned down, but he did say, "I had to explore all options."

Mr. Skillern and Commissioner Bill Hullander stated that Hamilton County Board of Education members had kept the County Commission out of the process of finding a buyer for the land.

"The school system has caused us a problem," Mr. Hullander said. "I ask that they never put us in this position again."

School board Chairman Kenny Smith said he didn't think any school board member had intended to keep the commission in the dark. He said he was unaware that the county and the school system jointly owned the property until about a month and a half ago, well into the process.

WHAT'S NEXT

Hamilton County Attorney Rheubin Taylor said the sale of the old Signal Mountain Middle School property must go back to the Hamilton County Board of Education for a vote because the County Commission included restrictions in the deed for the property.

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