The Columbus Redevelopment Authority will temporarily hold off on acquiring more properties in the Burns Bottom neighborhood.
CRA Attorney Jeff Turnage, who also represents the city of Columbus, said Thursday it would be better to wait before entering further negotiations with property owners in the area while the CRA commissions a historic survey to be done of the neighborhood for Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
“My impression of (Wednesday’s CRA board meeting) was that we’re going to engage a survey for Archives and History to consider and maybe it would be better just to chill out a bit on acquisitions except for those that are interested right off in selling,” Turnage said.
CRA also is without a Realtor after the board accepted Andy Kalinowski’s resignation Wednesday amid revelations he had sent letters to at least 11 property owners in the neighborhood threatening eminent domain if they didn’t sell their lots by this week.
The board never authorized the content of the letters sent by Kalinowski, who had worked for CRA for two years as an agent of Century 21 Doris Hardy and Associates. Doris Hardy, the broker for the Century 21 firm, confirmed to The Dispatch Kalinowski was no longer an agent there.
Burns Bottom is a five-block area between Third and Fourth streets that runs north-to-south from Second Avenue to Seventh Avenue North. CRA announced in 2015 it wanted to acquire properties in the area of mostly vacant lots and low-value housing, demolish existing structures and market the neighborhood for a higher-value housing development. So far the CRA has acquired 28 of the 69 lots board members are eying.
Turnage said Thursday he would write an apology letter to the 11 property owners Kalinowski threatened, and City Planner George Irby would deliver those in-person.
“We didn’t get very far (Wednesday) into the discussion on (hiring another Realtor),” Turnage said.
Turnage added CRA has hit other roadblocks in negotiating with property owners. He said several property owners do not want to sell their properties for appraised value, which is the only price government entities can legally pay for properties.
Board member Tommy Lott called it a “conflicting deal.”
“We’ve got people that don’t want to move because they think (there’s) more money there than we can pay them,” Lott said at Wednesday’s meeting. “We can’t do it.”
Lott said the CRA’s policy thus far has been to offer property owners the higher of two appraised values — that of the CRA or that of the Lowndes County Tax Assessor’s Office. Property owners also can get their own appraisal, and CRA will pay that amount if it is highest.
CRA is offering an additional $2,500 “administrative allowance” to all property owners in the neighborhood, as well as a relocation allowance to the 10 owner-occupied homeowners in the project area.
However, that policy hasn’t satisfied every property owner.
Turnage raised the example of one piece of property where the owner recently died and had 13 heirs — only one of whom is holding out on selling to the CRA.
“We don’t want to buy 12/13ths of a piece of property,” Turnage said. “We want to buy the whole thing. So we’re stuck on that one and that’s just a good example of the situation we’re faced with on a number of them.”
CRA’s acquisitions attempts were further complicated earlier this year when MDAH charged the CRA to resurvey the property, which was designated a nationally historic neighborhood in 1980. CRA was days from demolishing eight houses in the area when The Dispatch learned one of the houses was on the National Register of Historic Places and contacted MDAH in March.
The board voted unanimously to hire Schneider Historic Preservation, LLC out of Anniston, Alabama, to conduct a historic survey of the neighborhood for $2,172. The survey should be complete by July 31.
CRA board members believe that survey may cause MDAH to rethink how much historical value the neighborhood has actually preserved over the last 38 years.
“Since 1980, the property has changed significantly,” board member Mark Castleberry said at Wednesday’s meeting. “Because this neighborhood now (consists of the Soccer) Complex. Many of the homes have been removed and many of the homes that were not removed are now in much poorer condition and such. So MDAH said (CRA) needs to get it resurveyed to see (if it still qualifies as a historic neighborhood).”
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