March 5, 2009
Neal Wagner -
With 31 different parcels and at least one landowner unwilling to sell, the Burns Bottom land proposed as a home for a future sportsplex would offer unique challenges, if selected from 11 sites under consideration.
The land in question encompasses the Hitching Lot, the site of the farmers'' market. It is bounded on the south by Second Avenue North, the west and north by the Main Street access to Highway 82 and Highway 82 itself and on the east by Third Street North.
"We''ve been down here a long time, and no, we don''t want to leave anytime soon," said Curtis Crawley, who lives in and owns nearly four acres in Burns Bottom. "We like it down here."
The Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority made public on Monday 11 pieces of property throughout the county it is considering for a sportsplex to host the county''s soccer, youth softball and football programs.
All but two of the properties, the Burns Bottom land and a 156-acre tract owned by the Army Corps of Engineers near the Riverwalk, were submitted by landowners in response to an advertisement for proposals.
The Riverwalk property has been an area of interest for the CLRA for several years. Columbus Mayor Robert Smith and Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President and District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders suggested the Burns Bottom land. The cost estimates for those properties -- $462,840 for the Burns Bottom land and $474,864 for the Riverwalk property -- were obtained from Lowndes County tax office assessments.
"If we did decide to pursue that property in the future, I''m sure it would be more difficult for us to negotiate with 31 landowners rather than just one, like we would for the other 10 properties," said CLRA Executive Director Roger Short.
The land, a block from Main Street, is the closest parcel to downtown Columbus, and is the only land containing private residences.
"You''ll see on the list that there are four homestead exemptions listed; meaning, there are basically four occupied homes on that property," Short added. "Of course, that land is just one of the properties we are considering right now. We have no idea which two or three we will narrow it down to next week."
Though there are several houses around the Hitching Lot, most residences in the area are outside the land under CLRA consideration. Officials have said the Hitching Lot Farmers'' Market would be unaffected if the complex were sited in the neighborhood.
"Most of the property down there is just vacant lots," said Bobby Watkins, who owns about 0.1 acres and a rental property behind the Hitching Lot. "I would certainly be more than happy to sell my land to them if they approached me about it.
"I''m excited about the sportsplex, and I believe it would be really good for the city if they put it on that land," Watkins added. "I would be more than happy to cooperate with them if it would help them build the sportsplex."
At least one other Burns Bottom resident and landowner is not as eager to sell his property.
"If I left here, I would more or less have to be forced into moving," said Crawley. "It''s a good place to be and my family has been happy here for many years.
"But I guess if they decide they want this land, they can make it rough for you until you want to leave and sell your property to them," Crawley added.
Though 11 properties were presented during a Monday night meeting, CLRA and the city-county ad hoc recreation committee are expected meet March 12 to examine the properties and choose three to recommend to the Columbus City Council and the Board of Supervisors.
"We have not made any plans for any of the properties yet, because we don''t know which ones we will chose next week," Short said. "We all just want to make sure we choose the plot that is right for everyone."
Proposed tracts range in price from $247,250 to $3.9 million and from 50 acres to 156 acres; the CLRA advertised for 50-60 acres. Visit the Dispatch Sportsplex page for more details and to vote on the best location