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Tuesday, March 19, 2013
I am not very happy with the actions of Salem City Council in approving the sale of five acres of land of the former Elizabeth Campus site to some developers for a proposed medical office project ("Salem approves selling 5 acres of green space," March 12 news story). I'll tell you why.
The sale was rushed through with hardly any public notice.
A number of residents raised concerns and asked for more information from city officials before and during the public hearing on March 11. Answers were sketchy, vague or non-responsive.
Every speaker who rose to comment opposed the sale for a number of very valid reasons, not the least of which was the fact that former council members had promised to preserve at least half of the former campus property for a public park.
It didn't matter to the current council members, who listened politely, then quickly voted to go ahead with the sale immediately.
I am bothered that no one on council took the time to consider the objections.
No one, not even staff, addressed the concerns raised by residents who attended the hearing, including myself.
There was no independent appraisal of the value of the land, and the information about the use it would be put to was vague and not specifically made a condition of the sale.
When I asked if the buyer could flip the property, the city manager said no, but when asked by a reporter, the city attorney said that if it is sold within two years, the new buyer would be restricted to the terms offered by this purchaser. What about after that?
Like others who objected to the sale, I felt there were other sites more suitable for offices. Use of this land was fought over in public hearings on numerous occasions.
It was publicly agreed that it would be at least partly held aside for green space and recreational use.
Yet it was chopped up for a water tower that takes up a lot of excess space, the YMCA and its ample parking lots, two large new office buildings with their parking lots and still it has no walking trails, no recreational fields and few remaining woods.
It was cleared of trees, stripped of habitat and fragmented with little or no concern for the needs of Salem's residents. Only the needs of business users were accommodated. Only dollar signs made any impression on council members.
Basically, we were ignored, dismissed and disrespected. The decision to sell was predetermined, and the whole public hearing was a sham, designed to give the appearance of public input without the reality of accepting public input.
These sham hearings are a disgrace and should not pass without comment and complaint. It seems that Salem doesn't really care what we residents actually want, only what gets them to where council members want to be.
I want to say one more important thing. While Salem already had a large area of beautiful land highly suitable for use as public green space, council did not feel it was worth preserving.
Christiansburg, on the other hand, just spent $2.5 million to buy a tract of land to use for greenways, recreation and open space ("Town buys 60 acres on Peppers Ferry Road," March 12 news story).
Obviously, Christiansburg understands the value of having amenities better than Salem does.
Maybe Salem ought to learn from Christiansburg and stop being so smug and short-sighted.
Finally, while I disagree with the actions taken by Salem council in this case, that does not mean I dislike the individuals who selflessly serve on council.
I consider all of them friends and generally feel quite proud of their work.
I just think they went astray this time, and I urge them to do better.
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