It was supposed to be a night to celebrate, as Michelle Butler was hoping that the long ordeal of giving prime lakefront property to the city was finally over. Family and friends attended the city commission meeting last night, July 13, hoping that the land would be turned into a park named after the local community activist Clark Lambros.
Unfortunately, that was not to be.
After an already uncharacteristically long meeting, the city commission voted 6-1 to table discussion for one month before accepting a deal that would accept the property along with a $250,000 endowment to keep up with park costs. The lone dissenting roll call vote was by Sarah Reynolds.
Reynolds said after the meeting that she tried to discuss whether or not the tabling of discussion would have an effect for Butler, but Roberts Rules of Order states that no discussion could occur during a motion to table discussion. When Reynolds tried to ask the question, both Mayor Mike Coyne and Board Parliamentarian and Legal Counsel Ronald Keefe explained that she could not ask the question.
This isn’t the first time the city commission has struggled with the intricacies of Roberts Rules. The seven-member board often has to restart discussions or redo motions but usually remains calm and collected in fixing their form. It matches the community that at the last meeting had three different citizens try to combine their public comment time into one prepared speech.
After the ruling, a heartbroken Butler and family left the meeting. Butler shook her head and made comments with her family, making it appear that she was contemplating revoking the offer.
The exodus shook up Coyne before his final statements.
“It concerns me that everyone in support of this project has left already,” he said.
Coyne suggested that in the one month delay, the city commission could review the over 600-page document regarding the land, environmental concerns, lifeguards, buildings and part of the land that would be retained for development. Commissioner Mike Conley was willing to refuse the gift if any stretch of the land was reserved for development. Mayor Pro Tem Dave Campana also shared concerns about the development and beach access. Reynolds and Tom Baldini seemed to be ok with voting yes based on the nature of the gift alone but questions asked by Pete Frazier and Sara Cambensy showed concerns that the land could turn into a white elephant once the endowment was used up.
Multiple commission members also wanted to have a work session with Butler to review everything and be brought up to speed.
For Butler, it was just another delay of a project years in the making.
The deal was originally supposed to be a gift, a “here, have a park” kind of thing to celebrate a pillar of the community. She first approached the city manager in March 2013, but delays occurred when an attempt to get grants and environmental protections. Some of the land was found to have environmental contaminants, but still at low enough levels to build it into a park.
Butler and multiple city staff have been working ever since with the correct agencies to have everything else set. The appraised value of the land is $1,050,000; grants will pay for over 75 percent of that and Butler has decided to take the remaining $250,000 and put it into a trust that will pay for park expenses. The whole deal will cost the city $1 for the transaction plus all the labor and effort over the last years that have already been paid out.
And while emotions are hurt, the deal will have massive implications in the local tax base. City officials have said that the development area reserved was to put in an increased taxable zone that could help indirectly pay for the park and more.
As it stands, the land is still private property for Butler. At any point she can take the deal she considers a gift off the table and sell it to developers or put up signs to stop people from trespassing on the beach.
There is no update on Butler’s plan for the land after the meeting.