Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

May 5, 2014

Basin property buy back on city agenda

Mayor believes refurbishment would enhance safety, spur community pride

TAHLEQUAH — A request to buy nearly 20 properties near Basin Avenue will be back before Tahlequah city councilors Monday, but without the property appraisal or soil testing that was requested last month.

Mayor Jason Nichols said the sellers have a new proposal for the council.

Last month, Ward 2 Councilor Charles Carroll suggested the city had used an incinerator to burn solid waste in the 1960s and ‘70s, and that ashes from the charred trash remains might have been dumped in the Basin Avenue area.

Councilors then denied Nichols’ proposal to buy the homes, with Ward 1 Councilor Diane Weston suggesting they wanted soil testing and an appraisal of the property.

Weston did not return messages seeking comment by press time.

“After making some phone calls to the Department of Environmental Quality, it appears that the city’s best option is to attempt to acquire the property and perform whatever testing and contamination remediation might be needed through the use of grant funding,” Nichols said Friday.

“That is especially true if we can combine the project with the one we have planned for the old solid waste transfer station. If the speculation that has been made proves true and there is contamination of the site, then the city would very likely have an obligation to remediate it.”

Nichols, who previously promised to follow up with councilors’ requests, said on Friday he doesn’t believe an appraisal of the property “will be helpful in any consideration of the purchase.”

“Right now, I think the focus of the discussion is on the benefit to the community in removing the blighted area that has led to crime, aesthetics issues and, very likely, water quality issues due to the potential activities of residents along the creek bank,” said Nichols. “There are also other benefits. We’ve had police officers wading into waist-deep waters to pull people out of the structures during floods. That won’t have to happen anymore if the purchase goes through. Flood insurance rates could drop by removing so many structures from the flood plain. The creek-side park system would benefit greatly from the purchase.”

Nichols said he also believes a clearing of the properties and establishment of a park system in the Basin area could have a positive economic benefit.

“Think of the success story of Norris Park,” Nichols said.

“What used to be a run-down area of town was rejuvenated and has become one of the jewels of this community. Private investment followed public investment in that area. The same would very likely happen on Basin Avenue, turning a source of embarrassment into a source of community pride.”

The 19 structures – 10 houses and nine duplexes – were originally listed at $480,000, but city officials have not revealed what offer has been made by the sellers.

Century 21 Wright Real Estate is handling the deal for the properties, which are owned by John and Geneva King.

Several other homes in the area of Basin, Anderson, Fifth and Seventh streets are not owned by the Kings and are not included in the current discussion, though city officials have said they would be interested in buying those properties as well.

Nichols is asking the council to buy the property with bond funds established for a greenbelt project.

Several local residents, including past city employees, have confirmed to the Daily Press the city did operate an incinerator or several incinerators in the 1960s or ‘70s, though most have suggested the incinerator was either located where the city’s now-former solid waste transfer station is, or farther north, near the Fourth Street bridge.

A few former city employees claim ashes were not dumped in the area of Basin Avenue, but were rather hauled to an old dump site on North Cedar Avenue.

jnewton@tahlequahdailypress.com

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