CRA Withdraws Offer for "Clark's Corner," Balks at Environmental Study
Questions About Deal Were Raised in Prior LakeWalesNews.net Story
Last updated 6/26/2022 at 9:11am
Courtesy Lake Wales CRA
Plans to create a "gateway" sign and landscaping on a parcel at the intersection of SR 60 and West Central Avenue are on hold after a preliminary environmental inspection revealed evidence of potential contamination on the site.
The parcel, known locally as "Clark's Corner," was formerly a gasoline service station. The Community Redevelopment Agency had previously agreed to purchase the site for $60,000, but questions about the deal were raised in a story on LakeWalesNews.net, which may have led to a further review of the purchase.
The Phase One study of the property, performed by the consultant firm Cardno, found evidence of vent pipes normally associated with underground storage tanks, which have been the cause of ground-water contamination on many hundreds of sites across Florida. Mitigation often requires many years and thousands of dollars to achieve.
Given the opportunity to proceed with a Phase Two study, which would include drilling shallow wells and testing soil samples, the board balked at the $25,250 cost. That expense would have been added to the original cost of purchase, a fact cited by Commissioner Terrye Howell when questioned about the deal.
During discussion, City Attorney Chuck Galloway pointed out that the purchase would meet "the legitimate pursuit of slum and blight." If purchased, the city would have also incurred the expense of removing the existing dilapidated structure.
While recognizing that the site is an ideal location for beautification and welcoming signage, city commissioners, sitting as the CRA board, ultimately agreed with Chairman Robin Gibson that the onus for determining whether contamination exists is on the seller.
"It's the perfect place (for a gateway sign) but we can't be foolish about it," Gibson told the board. "We're not the owner."
Current property owner JAK Rentals, LLC purchased the property in January for $40,000. It has a taxable value of $408, according to the Polk County property appraiser, with a building value of $308 and land value of $100. The triangular lot is a bit more than 6,000 square feet, or .14 acre, and less than 100 feet wide.
According to Development Services Director Mark Bennett, the property is too small to meet setbacks, parking, or stormwater requirements, meaning that it has no value as a building lot.
If contamination indeed exists on the site, it would likely result in a negative market value, meaning the cost of mitigation would far exceed the land value.
"Visible features are consistent with historical use of the subject property as an auto repair and retail gas sales facility," Cardno stated in their report to the CRA. "These features included potential underground storage tank (UST) vent pipes and remnants of a hydraulic lift system within the on-site structure. The historical land use offers the potential for petroleum, solvent, and metals impacts to soil and groundwater."