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City considers selling surplus open lots around Helena

2013-06-10T00:00:00Z 2013-06-10T00:28:03Z City considers selling surplus open lots around HelenaBy AL KNAUBER Independent Record Helena Independent Record
June 10, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The verdant splash of green grass at the intersection of Cruse Avenue and Broadway would hardly draw a second glance from those driving or walking by.

The site is small and less than one-tenth of an acre. It’s an impromptu although unauthorized camping site but offers little other than a bit of open space in the downtown.

“We’ve had problems with homeless people sleeping under the trees,” said Craig Marr, the city parks superintendent during a meeting of the City-County Parks Board on Wednesday.

These are problems the city’s Parks and Recreation Department sees with this tract that it’s responsible for and would like to sell.

Inventorying the 180 park lands in the city in an effort to “clean things up” resulted in finding 17 that could be seen as surplus because of concerns such as not connecting to future trails or linking other park lands, lack of public access, no future recreational potential and encroachments, among other issues.

Of the 17 sites whose public usefulness is in doubt, 11 of them had deed restrictions that came when they were conveyed to the city, said Brad Langsather, the city’s natural resource coordinator.

“That kind of set them aside for right now,” he added.

The other six, however, had no restrictions that would prevent the city from disposing of them.

Should the parks board conclude that these lands should be sold, a recommendation would be made for a decision by the City Commission.

Radio Park, as this downtown site has been named, is one of the properties that have been given to the city over the years. New subdivisions, for example, can provide land for a park or cash in lieu of land as part of the process to gain city approval.

The Parks Board agreed this site and the others it reviewed weren’t particularly useful to the city and voted to move forward with a process that would have them declared surplus property.

Whether all six remain as candidates for sale won’t be known until the process advances.

Other of the lands targeted for sale are two city lots that together amount to nearly 0.4 acres by Reeder’s Alley and South Harrison Avenue.

These lots don’t connect to any of the city’s trails and lack recreational value, Langsather said.

One of these lots is used to as a collection point for stormwater, as noted to the parks board. The two properties have resale value, although no values are yet listed for any of the properties.

A nearly 0.4-acre site on Nicole Street is also seen as surplus. The land is east of Walmart and near Highway 12. While it does have a creek running through it, the property is in an industrial neighborhood and become a dumping ground for old concrete and other debris, Langsather told the board.

This property could be sold to a nearby business.

A couple of lots at the end of State Street, together they amount to 0.17 acres, are also on the list of surplus property.

“It doesn’t have an obvious recreational purpose,” Marr said, adding that it could become land for new homes.

A couple of parcels along Washington Street near Interstate 15 do little more than provide a larger back yard for a duplex there, Langsather said. The parcels amount to 0.16 acres.

Nearly a third of an acre named Hawthorne School Park has been cared for by the Helena school district since no one there was sure who really owned it, members of the parks board noted. The site could be sold to the school district or the parks board could enter into a maintenance agreement with the school district for the property, it was mentioned during the parks board meeting.

City Commissioner Dick Thweatt said there would be merit in retaining this site as it’s next to a historic site.

Selling land that had provided open space to a neighborhood could result in angry neighbors without efforts to limit how new owners use the land, board members noted.

Members of the board also discussed protecting the sites through deed restrictions to make sure these properties continue to provide open space after they’re sold although no decisions were made on this issue.

The board also discussed where money from the sale of these lands would go in the parks department although no decisions were made on this point either.

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