Editorial: Homes good option at Cookson site
Op-Ed · October 12, 2012

Last week, Blue Sky Development made an admirable decision on a complicated disagreement regarding the Cookson property, and we are glad to see that the former nursing home now appears to soon make way for new homes in West Branch.

The West Branch City Council faced a “good problem” in that it had two companies very interested in building new homes on the 3.5 acres at the south end of Second Street where the empty former Cookson Community Center, and former Cookson Home, stands.

A Blue Sky representative said the company withdrew its bid because it felt Lynch’s Excavating had a better bid, a bid they could not match, so they saw no need for the council to spend more time on the gray areas two council members saw in the Lynch bid.

The uncertainty revolved around how the city asked for five pieces of information in each bid, and how Blue Sky provided all five while Lynch’s only provided one of the requested pieces of information, plus an offer to tear down the building.

At the Sept. 17 meeting, no one questioned the Lynch bid. In fact, the offer to raze Cookson — one estimate placed the cost at about $40,000 — made Lynch’s bid most appealing.

But council member Dan O’Neil, who missed the Sept. 17 meeting, raised the five-point issue at the Oct. 1 meeting, wondering if the city was setting a precedent by considering the bid when it lacked what fellow council member Jordan Ellyson called “requirements.”

City Administrator Matt Muckler said that it was up to each council member to interpret whether the bids met the requirements for consideration.

When we looked again at the city’s request for bids, we found this statement preceding the five-point list: “Interested developers are encouraged to provide a proposal with the following information ...”

Our interpretation is that the more points submitted, the more information the council will have to make an informed decision, but none of the five points is necessarily required. Had the council felt significant questions remained on the Lynch bid, we could understand them wishing to set it aside. However, it appeared that enough information had been submitted because the council on Sept. 17 seemed to favor Lynch’s bid. And Lynch’s owner, Larry Lynch, following that language, would reasonably believe he submitted enough information for the council to sufficiently weigh his offer.

O’Neil also submitted for consideration property tax projections based on Blue Sky’s building plan, which was submitted before the bid deadline, and Lynch’s, which came after. We found this information interesting in that it showed Blue Sky’s plan bringing in about $110,000 more in tax revenue over 30 years.

While we do like our council to seriously consider long-term ramifications of its decisions, we feel that, in this case, there ought to be more weight given to the immediate costs associated with the project. Both developers considered the sloping property difficult for building, so drainage issues and Planning and Zoning concerns would possibly dictate changes to both drawings; that happened with the Meadows subdivision. For that reason alone, no developer would guarantee a particular tax revenue, especially that far in the future.

Also, West Branch is not suffering from a shortage of land, so once the Cookson property fills up, people wishing to build a home in this city have many more options. The city does not care if a property owner lives on the south side or west side, so long as they pay their property taxes.

The Cookson property is in a good location adjacent to a neighborhood and West Branch Family Practice. The city made a go at turning it into a community center, but closed it down because of the expense. That the city could not find a good use for the former Cookson Home, built by two sisters, is too bad as we understand the structure is quite sturdy.

But if it has to be torn down, we feel that new homes would be a great replacement. We are glad the land now appears to be heading in that direction.

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