BUCKHANNON – The City of Buckhannon is attempting to negotiate the purchase of the property adjacent to the Stockert Youth & Community Center for development of the new SYCC gymnasium/auditorium with a local fraternal organization.
However, city officials and Order of the Knights of Pythias members, who own the property at 65 E. Main St., have been unable to settle on a buying price.
Members of the fraternal organization have indicated they’re willing to sell the property; however, city officials and The Knights of Pythias had yet to arrive at an agreement that’s acceptable to both parties, city attorney Tom O’Neill said Monday.
The potential property purchase is part of the city’s plan to expand the youth center. According to previous stories, the city launched a capital campaign to fund the construction of a $400,000 multi-use gymnasium/auditorium facility that would be connected to SYCC.
At a Buckhannon City Council meeting earlier this month, O’Neill shared a letter with council members that had been sent to the fraternal organization stating that the city was considering looking into the possibility of acquiring the land via eminent domain if the Knights of Pythias don’t agree to lower their asking price.
At council’s Oct. 17 meeting, McCauley told council the SYCC Board of Directors had voted unanimously to recommend that council “pursue the acquisition of the property directly beside the existing Stockert Youth Center building.”
“An overture was made to the city several months ago about the property,” McCauley said. “We’ve been negotiating a sale price.”
In an Oct. 16 letter O’Neill addressed to Mr. Warren DeBarr of the Knights of Pythias, the city attorney called the property at 65 E. Main “a necessary piece of the puzzle in permitting the expansion plans to move forward.”
“The Knights have indicated on multiple occasions that the lodge is willing to sell the property; however, it appears that the organization may be holding out for an unreasonably high price,” O’Neill wrote.
The letter goes on to say that the city has conducted its own appraisal and has made an offer to the Knights of Pythias that’s “nearly twice the price reflected in the Knights’s own appraisal, of which we have been made aware.”
O’Neill’s letter says both the City of Buckhannon and the SYCC Board has directed him to “pursue condemnation options under West Virginia Code 54-1-1.”
Chapter 54 of state code is outlines eminent domain and procedures governing it. Eminent domain is the right of a government to acquire private property for public use.
O’Neill notes the city doesn’t want to have to resort to using eminent domain procedures.
“We certainly do not wish to use that method of acquisition, but neither the Stockert Board nor the city council will pay exorbitant and unjustifiably inflated prices for property needed for public uses,” the letter states. “The city’s responsibility to its taxpayers and Stockert’s responsibility to the community requires care and diligence when it comes to the funds pledged to this project.”
The Knights of Pythias have informed McCauley that they want to hire an attorney to represent their interests before engaging in further negotiations, the letter says, so O’Neill asked the group to let him know who’s representing them so he can contact them to begin price negotiation.
The letter says city officials “[remain] willing to further discuss an agreed price” and in that case, the city would not acquire rights to the property via eminent domain.
O’Neill said as of Monday, he had not received a response from DeBarr or the group. He also said he wasn’t able to comment on either the amount the city had offered to the Knights of Pythias or the amount they’d asked for because negotiations are pending.
Council did not vote on sending the letter at the Oct. 17 meeting. They did, however, discuss acquiring the property in executive session following the regular meeting, but no decisions were made.
The Order of the Knights of Pythias is a non-sectarian fraternal order that promotes cooperation and friendship between people of goodwill, and its primary values are benevolence, kindness, generosity and tolerance, according to its website.