A plan to use city funds to pave a private parking lot in exchange for its continued public use was approved by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners Thursday night, but that process proved rocky.
The decision was 3-2 in favor of a proposal involving property at 134 S. Renfro St., across from Reeves Community Center.
For many years, that address was home to John Jackson Insurance, but the property is now owned by AIS Buildings, LLC, which is associated with a new firm at that site, Alliance Insurance.
Though the parcel has changed hands, present owner Christopher Cook, who introduced himself at Thursday night’s meeting, is wanting to continue a longtime arrangement in place with the previous one regarding parking. It has allowed patrons of Reeves Community Center to use the private lot for overflow parking without fees or stipulation for many years.
But the new wrinkle that came before Mount Airy officials Thursday night stemmed from a recent request by AIS Buildings. It involved a proposal for the city government to pave the AIS parking lot in conjunction with such work already taking place at an adjoining lot owned by the municipality at the corner of South Renfro and East Pine streets.
In exchange, AIS was willing to sign a 10-year license agreement to keep its parking lot open for continued public use.
The cost of paving the private lot is $5,850, City Manager Barbara Jones said, which is in addition to the $12,000 expense of the work on the municipality’s space.
Both sites will result in about 35 parking spaces combined, according to Mitch Williams, city engineer.
And while the majority of the commissioners were in agreement with the plan, the board’s Jon Cawley and Shirley Brinkley cast the two dissenting votes.
Cawley questioned the move during a lengthy commentary before the vote, challenging the precedent being sent and the fact the board had not been briefed on the proposal before Thursday night’s meeting.
“I just don’t think it is wise for us to make these kinds of agreements,” Cawley said at one point, explaining that the city is paying money to improve a site for which it has no ultimate control.
“I think it’s a bad precedent for the city,” said Cawley, who wondered why Surrey Bank and Trust couldn’t seek the same type of city-funded improvements. It also is located near the community center and crowds attending basketball tournaments use the bank’s lot during peak times.
“And when does it stop?” Cawley said of the agreement with AIS Buildings and others that could emerge.
“I don’t think it represents the people of Mount Airy and their dollars very well.”
After Cawley spoke, City Attorney Hugh Campbell said a similar type of transaction occurred within the past decade — before Cawley became a commissioner — which involved a land “swap” between the city government and Moody Funeral Home.
That transaction in September 2007 resulted in the funeral home receiving about 1 acre of municipal property, a parking lot located to the rear of Moody’s, in exchange for 3.2 acres the funeral home owned on Franklin and South streets.
Moody Funeral Home desired the city site because a 4,000-square-foot expansion to its facility on West Pine Street was going to use up most of the existing parking space of the funeral home.
“So there was some precedent,” Campbell said.
“That’s the only situation I’m aware of,” the city attorney said of anything similar to what the board considered Thursday night.
In response to a concern by Commissioner Jim Armbrister, Campbell said the agreement with AIS Buildings will be filed in the county register of deeds office and be binding on any future owner.
Cawley also questioned the lack of preparation the commissioners had before the matter came up for action.
“How come we didn’t have a meeting on this?” he asked.
“I think it makes a great deal of sense for us to have (had) some heads-up on it,” Cawley added. He said the opportunity to ask questions should have been available before a resolution on the licensing agreement and paving plan was drawn up for the commissioners to consider.
Both the city manager and Mayor David Rowe accepted responsibility for that lack of communication.
“I could have called each one of you and talked to you about it,” Jones said in reference to Cawley and other board members.
“I apologize for that.”
After the 3-2 vote, Cawley did have a display of unity.
“I will support the board’s decision,” he said.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.