City attorney Tom O'Neill says negotiations between the city and the Knights of Pythias over the property at 65 E. Main St. are likely to become increasingly complex.

Negotiations between city officials, Knights of Pythias stall as fraternal organization vows not to sell property

BUCKHANNON – A local fraternal organization says its offer to sell its building to the City of Buckhannon for the purpose of expanding the Stockert Youth & Community Center is now off the table.

Following months of negotiations, talks have broken down between the Knights of Pythias and the city, with the Knights saying city officials have not kept their word and the city balking at the Knights’ asking price of $187,000, nearly double what the city has offered.

The proposed transaction between the city and the fraternal organization came about as a result of the city’s plan to expand SYCC. City officials and members of the SYCC Board want to acquire the property – located at 65 E. Main St. – because they believe it’s an ideal location for the construction of a $400,000 multi-use gymnasium/auditorium facility that would be connected to SYCC.

At council’s Thursday, Nov. 21 meeting, city attorney Tom O’Neill said the Knights of Pythias had secured an attorney, Allison Farrell of Jenkins Fenstermaker PLLC in Clarksburg, after they received a letter from O’Neill informing the Knights the city planned to acquire the property through condemnation and eminent domain proceedings if the fraternal organization did not lower their asking price.

“This is going to get increasingly complicated as time goes on,” O’Neill said at Thursday’s meeting.

Farrell’s Nov. 7 reply to O’Neill’s letter says the Knights “do not desire to sell their property located at 65 East Main Street.”

“Should the city still desire to initiate condemnation proceedings, please direct copies of the pleadings to me as counsel for the Knights,” it states.

On Friday, McCauley said the city had the property appraised by Dean Everett for $105,000, and he indicated the Knights of Pythias had a separate appraisal that came in under that value.

“We offered the middle of the two appraisals first, then ultimately increased it to the high appraised value (of $105,000),” the mayor said. The Knights of Pythias countered with an $187,000 offer, which the city rejected.

McCauley and Knights of Pythias treasurer Warren DeBarr both indicated negotiations broke down when discussions about the city building the Knights of Pythias a new lodge inside the new gymnasium/multi-purpose facility fell through.

The mayor said the group asked if the city would consider the possibility of building them a lodge inside the facility.

“We said we’d explore it,” McCauley said. “They wanted perpetual, forever ownership of a part of our building, built by taxpayers and … the (W.Va.) Ethics Commission indicated we couldn’t do that.”

When reached for comment Sunday, DeBarr said the city hadn’t been forthcoming.

“It’s not for sale,” DeBarr said. “We’ve been lied to so many times. [City officials] said they would build us a Lodge Hall in the new Stockert building free of charge, and they were going to build us a kitchen and a meeting room and a closet, but then they started backing out. The mayor said the [state] Ethics Commission and, I think, the attorney general’s office may not allow that.”

McCauley said Sunday the cost of the lodge the Knights wanted totaled $187,000 – the amount they are holding out for. However, DeBarr, who’s been a member of the group for 47 years, said the city had committed to building the facility and then reneged on their commitment.

“Now that they’re talking about condemning the building, and it’s not in bad shape. We got a lawyer,” he said. “We’re not going to sell them the building now.”

DeBarr said the group meets twice a month on Tuesdays in the building, and although the water’s been turned off, other utilities, including electric, remain on. He also insisted there’s a larger lot behind the Knights’ plot on which the new building could be constructed.

Meanwhile, McCauley said the city will move forward with plans to expand SYCC.

“We need the property for the kids, and we’re not going to be held hostage by this group and pay two, three, four or five times what it’s worth. It would be different if we were a private organization, but this is a public government,” McCauley said.

The mayor said city officials consider the property ideal, given its location across from city hall.

“It would add to the dense feeling of Main Street, it’s out of the floodplain, we wouldn’t have to move the basketball court, there’s 100 reasons why.”

McCauley said the building has no historical value, while DeBarr said the Knights of Pythias acquired the building in 1914 and have been meeting there for 105 years.

Chapter 54 of state code outlines eminent domain and procedures governing it. Eminent domain is the right of a government to acquire private property for public use.

The city may file litigation to acquire the lot prior to the end of 2019, McCauley said.

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