Land purchase concerns commissioners

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church leaders are trying to sell some of the organization's land to help keep the place of worship on the Island. - Kristin Swain | Sun

HOLMES BEACH – A potential land purchase by the city is moving forward faster than some commissioners would like.

During their Sept. 26 meeting, Holmes Beach commissioners voted to approve a $5,000 expenditure for two land appraisals. They also voted to give Mayor Bob Johnson authority to enter into an agreement for bond services on the city’s behalf. The reason for both votes is to allow the city to move forward in considering purchasing land from Gloria Dei Lutheran Church. Some commissioners aren’t quite comfortable with the move.

Commissioner Judy Titsworth said she “doesn’t feel the city should be in the land acquisition business.” If a surplus of funds exists, she suggests using them to deal with other issues facing the city.

“I don’t feel comfortable getting into debt at this point,” she said, adding it would be different if the purchase was a need for the city rather than a want.

Commissioner Marvin Grossman said he felt the issue was moving forward too quickly without commission approval of the purchase, public input or adequate information.

“It’s a very difficult decision,” he said. “It’s a funny point now to start talking about it. You don’t hire people before you make up your mind. I feel like we’re doing this in reverse. I’m willing to go along with this to explore it further.”

The rear two parcels of land could be used as a city park or rezoned for single-family homes. – Kristin Swain | Sun

If purchased, the city would own three parcels of land at the church site. Two of the parcels, located in the rear of the church, provide green space. Without a definite plan in place, Grossman and Titsworth want to explore possible uses for the property. The third triangular-shaped parcel in the front of the church property could be used to realign the Palm Avenue entrance to Marina Drive. To alleviate congestion at the intersection, Marina Drive would be aligned further to the north, away from the nearby entrance to Key Royale.

The Gloria Dei land purchase could see this Marina Drive entrance move farther north, away from Key Royale Drive. – Kristin Swain | Sun

The purchase could cost the city more than $1.3 million. City Treasurer Lori Hill said the two agreements approved didn’t obligate the city to anything other than the appraisal costs. If commissioners move forward, $7,500 is due for acquiring the bond. Additional financial costs for the purchase are estimated at $35,000 or less. Despite not needing voter approval for the purchase, commissioners agreed public input is needed.

Grossman said he’d prefer to not pay more than $800,000 for the property.

Resident Jim Kihm said he wants to know the city’s vision for the property. With so much about the transaction unknown, he wants more discussion before city leaders commit.

Commissioner Carol Soustek wants the city to look toward the future when considering the purchase. “We need to move forward with this and give it some more thought,” she said.

Agreeing with Titsworth, Commissioner Jean Peelen said she feels it’s less about providing green space and more about saving the church.

“It colors my feelings about it and not in a good direction,” she said. “Every church on this island is having issues. Congregations are disappearing. I’m not totally comfortable with Holmes Beach and its rationale for going through with something this expensive.”

“It’s not really our problem to save the church,” Titsworth said. “It’s not our role. I do hope they survive.”

With the appraisal expenditures approved, commissioners agreed to continue the discussion once all three parcels are valued. Mayor Bob Johnson said he’d had a discussion with Gloria Dei’s leadership but no offer would be made without commission approval.