The right to sell?

Published 6:34 pm Saturday, November 15, 2014

Attorney says city sold land it didn’t own

A local attorney believes he has found evidence that the Economic Development Authority sold property that didn’t belong to it, and he plans to speak at this Wednesday’s City Council meeting about his concerns.

Kirk Pretlow believes a small, triangular-shaped parcel off Bright Lane near Wilroy Industrial Park belongs to the J.M. Smucker Co., a nearby coffee processing plant that was formerly known as Sara Lee.

Last week, Pretlow obtained a document from the city assessor’s office through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Email newsletter signup

The document, titled “Review of documents for question in ownership,” concludes by saying, “Sara Lee Corp. would retain interest in this triangle parcel.” The document is dated Aug. 13, less than three weeks before the EDA sold the land.

But the city was singing a different tune in June, when the City Council voted to transfer the triangular parcel and other adjacent parcels to the Economic Development Authority. The EDA then transferred it to Continental Terminals in late August. Continental Terminals intends to expand its nearby operations to include additional building space and employees.

“The worst thing is they just put on blinders,” Pretlow said. “They didn’t care that maybe they were wrong on the ownership. They were wrong on the ownership of the triangle parcel, even though I brought it to them and they wouldn’t do anything on it.”

Pretlow brought his questions about the triangular parcel’s ownership to the city in June, just prior to public hearings on vacating an unpaved portion of Bright Lane and transferring it and adjacent parcels — including the .17-acre one in question — to the EDA.

Representing client Brink Nelms, whose company recently purchased property on a paved portion of Bright Lane, Pretlow objected that the city obligated itself 24 years ago to pave the rest of the road. He produced records of the Industrial Development Authority, as the EDA was previously known, that showed the City Council approved $80,000 for the project in August 1990.

But the paving was never done, and now the city administration says it would cost “easily half a million” to extend the road, in the words of Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts during that June meeting.

In response to Pretlow’s contention that the J.M. Smucker Co. owns the land, the city attorney’s office said in June that its research did not show the company ever owning the property.

But that claim seems to be refuted by the assessor’s document Pretlow obtained through the FOIA request. He was initially denied the document based on the city’s contention that it was covered under attorney/client privilege, but he challenged that contention by email and then received the report.

Pretlow said he had a private title search company look at the parcel, and it came to the same conclusion he did and the assessor did — that the property is owned by Smucker’s.

Based on the acreage of the parcel, the EDA collected about $3,000 to which it was not entitled, Pretlow said.

“It’s an insignificant piece of property, but it is significant as to what they did,” Pretlow said. “To me, it’s dishonest. I hope Smucker’s is smart enough to say, ‘Give us the money you got for it.’”

“I don’t want it to be ultimately swept under the rug,” he continued. “I think I had an obligation to bring it out.”

In response to emails seeking comment, city spokesman Tim Kelley replied, “The matter is currently under review.”