News

City buying Top Hat site for $250,000

Still no decision on location for police station
By MIKE BROWN
Reporter Editor

The Rockdale City Council is buying the controversial Top Hat site, near the western city limits on US 79, for $250,000.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean the site location for a proposed new police department has been selected. The city is also still considering three downtown sites. See box below.

That split decision was a somewhat confusing ending to a 3-hour, 30-minute special council session—including a 2-hour executive session— at City Hall Monday afternoon and evening.

The vote came after 15 persons strongly voiced their objections to the site— selected as the city’s preference on March 22—in a 90-minute open session that ranged from respectful to confrontational.

“You have the opportunity to be Rockdale heroes (and choose a downtown site for the PD),” Wendie Upson challenged the council.

“When you don’t have a revitalized downtown you won’t have a city,” Michelle Morgan, president of the Rockdale Downtown Association, said.


INFO—Gary Griesbach said footprint of proposed new police station on Top Hat property would be only 3.5 percent of total area and brought along a scale visual aid to back up his claim. He said the PD footprint was in upper right corner. Griesbach said with parking added the percentage would grow to 7 percent, with landscaping to 11 percent. Realtor Carol Worley presented information on seven sites suggested by the public to begin Monday’s 3-hour, 30-minute marathon session. 
Reporter/Mike Brown INFO—Gary Griesbach said footprint of proposed new police station on Top Hat property would be only 3.5 percent of total area and brought along a scale visual aid to back up his claim. He said the PD footprint was in upper right corner. Griesbach said with parking added the percentage would grow to 7 percent, with landscaping to 11 percent. Realtor Carol Worley presented information on seven sites suggested by the public to begin Monday’s 3-hour, 30-minute marathon session. Reporter/Mike Brown VOTE—About 55 per- sons packed into the standing room-only council chambers. Less than half that number stayed to the end of the executive session.

At various times during that closed session the council called in Police Chief Thomas Harris, City Attorney Michelle Lehmkuhl and two Municipal Development District (MDD) officials, manager Kara Clore and board president Adam Straznicky.

When the council came back into open session, councilman Nathan Bland first thanked visitors for their attendance and interest, then made a motion to continue the search for a new police station site and to continue with the contract to purchase the 6-acre Top Hat Site from Jay Rubio.

Council member Joyce Dalley attempted to speak but Mayor John King ruled at that point in the process Dalley’s comment constituted a second to Bland’s motion and called for a vote.

“You can still vote against it,” King told Dalley.

Dalley then noted the council did not have firm prices on the seven alternative sites presented earlier in the session by realtor Carol Worley. “This (Top Hat) is the only one where they can’t increase the price,” she said.

Bland’s motion passed 4-2 with Bland, Dalley, Willie Phillips and Leroy Phillips voting in favor and Doug Calame and Colby Fisher against.

Many of the council visitors remaining to the end were unsure what the vote meant.

Some expressed their dissatisfaction and left the meeting thinking the decision had been made to build at Top Hat.

ALTERNATIVES— Realtor Carol Worley presented her findings on seven alternative downtown area sites suggested by the public. (There were originally six sites announced but the area surrounding Gill’s Shop-N-Go was treated as two sites.)

• Old Manor Oaks-Rockdale Rehab Nursing Home, South Wilcox, 8.341 acres, for sale, but other parties interested, price undisclosed.

• Area just north of that nursing home, also fronting South Wilcox, 2.302 acres, asking price $168,500.

• Gill’s Shop-N-Go and rest of adjacent block, 1.6947 acres, owners will sell, either no price yet or price undisclosed.

• Block with Gill’s Car Wash, 1.5495 acres without city alleys and streets included, partial price $83,000, no price on two of four parcels involved.

• Lots behind Kay Theater, 0.7754 acres, fronting Ackerman, for sale, some stipulations, partial price, $50,000, one owner has not stipulated price.

• Former Rockdale Ford dealership and rest of block, 1.48 acres but dealership and one piece of adjacent property is not for sale.

• Three lots west and adjacent to current City Hall, 1.4398 acres, for sale, price $165,000.

FOOTPRINT—One commenter brought a “visual aid” Monday.

Gary Griesbach showed a scale drawing of the footprint of the proposed police station on the Top Hat property, which drew comparisons to a postage stamp on an envelope (see adjacent photo).

Griesbach said the council may have “kind of made the assumption that everyone wants a new police station, but it doesn’t matter where it is.”

Warren Gillie presented the property field review card for the Top Hat property which indicated its 2016 value was $191,110, of which $140,570 was for a 3,600-foot building.

RESPONSE—Don Gooding charged having a police station near the western city limits would lengthen response time to calls on the east side.

That drew a response from Police Chief Harris. “Our officers don’t sit at the station waiting to get a call,” Harris said. “They are out moving and the response time is based on where they are when they’re called.”

Dr. Lucile Estell took exception to comments that downtown Rockdale is dead and drew applause when she said: “Downtown is not dead. It’s eligible for placement on the National Register and it doesn’t get more historic than that.”

COMMENTS—Comments from other speakers included:

• “We need to show support for downtown and you don’t do it by taking something that big out of it.”— Geri Burnett

• “Coming in from the east the city looks like a blight. (As for attracting new businesses) People say ‘oh my goodness, do I really want to be in Rockdale’?”— Mary Phillips, who asked the PD be placed at the Gill’s location.

• Realtor Janice Byrd, responding to city fears of being sued if the Top Hat contract was broken: “It looks like a counter suit would be in order involving the realtor involved in this transaction,” she said.

• “I don’t know that this needs to be decided tonight.”—Belinda Hillhouse.

It wasn’t.


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