The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

No fish: city won't proceed with purchase proposal

Discussions on derelict property say hold owner responsible for taxes, clean up

 

Valdez Star photo

The Valdez City Council just said no to a proposal to buy the old Three Bears property and the fiberglass fish situated on the site. Protesters against the school district's proposal to drug test students in activities took advantage of the lot's conspicuous location on Egan Dr to spread its message.

A proposal floated by city administration that would have led to a city purchase of the fiberglass fish that stands sentinel over the remains of the old Three Bears property on Egan Dr. was put on ice.

"There was not a consensus to move ahead," Deputy Clerk Allie Hendrickson said Monday night, a week after the Valdez City Council held a discussion on whether or not it should precede with a recommendation from city administration to purchase the property on Egan Dr. commonly known as the old Three Bears property.

The agenda statement from Lisa Von Bargen, the city's director of economic development, recommended the city council purchase the property from its owner, Janice Reynolds, for its appraised value of $241,000, minus back property taxes owed on the property dating back to 2010.

"The property owner has agreed to sell the property for the appraised value, less the back taxes owed," the statement said. "So if the transaction were to take place today, the purchase price would be $217,216.52."

City Clerk Sheri Pierce said the city – by law – cannot forgive tax debts.

"Sheri wanted to be very clear," Hendrickson said, "It's not legal."

In such cases, the city has historically deducted any amounts it is owed from the amount of money it pays out when a payee has a debt to the municipality's coffers.

The same holds true of the large fiberglass fish city administration had hoped to acquire under a similar deal. Administrators proposed that the council consider an offer it said was made by Larry Reynolds, husband of the owner of record, who acquired the large salmon as part of his purchase of Hook, Line and Sinker, a business that was located on Chitina Dr. The city said Reynolds hoped to swap the fish in exchange for back taxes owed on his home.

"In exchange for the fish, Mr. Reynolds has asked for the value of the back taxes owed on his home in Robe Lake Subdivision, as well as unpaid landfill tipping fees for the disposal of material associated with the demolition of the old Three Bears building," the agenda statement said. "As of 11/15/2014 the total payoff for back taxes was $11,755.93 and the amount of tipping fees was just over $10,000. The tipping fee debt has already been written off by the City and sent to collections."

The council did not take the bait.

"No on the fish as well," Hendrickson said. "because that was sort of part of the whole deal."

A number of council members, as well as members of the public who testified during the discussions, felt that the property owners should be held responsible for the back taxes and for abatement issues that have lingered on the site since the building on it collapsed during the record snows of 2012.

"The general consensus that came out of that, there were some other avenues to pursue," Hendrickson said. "Some of the citizens there wanted to explore those options first."

Von Bargen said in the agenda statement that purchasing the property and creating a land trust to administer it could have a higher probability of improving the property's aesthetics and eventual development in the private sector than pursuing abatement proceedings against the current owners.

"Land trusts can acquire property and then oversee desired development with the ultimate goal of returning the property back to private ownership," the statement said.

For the past several years, the city has been working on its long-term planning, and improvements to the downtown area is its number one priority.

"The (sic) City has committed significant resources to the Egan Drive Beautification project," the statement said. "Improving the public infrastructure only goes so far toward beautification of the area. Private property must also be improved."

Valdez Star photo

City administration says the old Three Bears property is an eyesore on the town's main drag.

Hendrickson said that there was no argument that the condition of the property on the town's main drag had to be improved.

"All agreed that something needs to be done," she said, but the city administration's proposal, as presented, will not be pursued.

Complaints about the property abound and there are a number of city codes that address derelict properties and nuisance conditions on lots within the city limits.

"Since being vacated by Three Bears, 137 Egan Drive, has been in less than a desirable, or even passable condition," the statement said. "Following the collapse and subsequent demolition of the building, the condition of the property has been intolerable, and certainly in violation of code. Administration has received countless complaints about this eyesore in our core downtown district."

 

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