Negotiations between the Town of Lexington and Lexington Masonic Lodge #152 over Lodge property and a proposed hotel appear to be deadlocked, but the story – and controversy – continues.
The Town of Lexington has been trying to buy land currently owned by Masonic Lodge #152 to pave and use as parking exclusively for a hotel to be built on Main Street. Initially, the Town told the Lodge that the land AND building appraised for $300 thousand, less than half of what an appraisal the Masons had commissioned. It was also less than a quarter of the cost of relocating the lodge with land purchase, building construction and moving.
The Town most recently offered the Lodge $48,300 for the land only, but with a stipulation. The land would be used only for hotel patrons, but the Masons would be allowed access to twenty spaces on Monday nights for their weekly meetings.
The Masons have rejected the Town’s offer and hired an attorney to assist in further talks.
Having already spent $2 million, should the Town and Lodge reach an impasse, Lexington Hospitality LLC seems to have few options for getting the parking space it needs.
As long as the Town of Lexington was acting as a proxy for the company, the option to “condemn” the property and take it in exchange for “fair market value” was, in theory, available. That value would likely be in the $300,000 range initially quoted. It’s a legal action, though one normally reserved for community infrastructure. For instance, it will be enacted to an extent when SCDoT reconfigures “Malfunction Junction.” There have also been occasions when eminent domain was used by local government to acquire land for private commercial use. In those cases, it has been determined in the courts that the land was better suited for the community because of the greater tax base and value for the “common good.”
But eminent domain won’t work for the Town of Lexington. The Town Council won’t allow it.
Lake and Main polled every member of the Council and asked:
Would you vote for or against the Town acquiring Masonic Lodge property via eminent domain or any other non-consensual means?
Council members Todd Carnes, Hazel Livingston (also Mayor pro tem), Todd Lyle, Kathy Maness and Ron Williams all verified – for the record – that they would NOT vote for or otherwise support the Town using eminent domain.
Councilman Steve Baker said he wants a resolution that will satisfy the Masons and “will not make them feel like they’ve been screwed.” Nonetheless, he reserves his opinion on eminent domain until he “has more information.”
Mayor Steve MacDougall’s response was “It would be inappropriate to discuss this at this point because we are in negotiations with the Masons and we expect a response to our offer very soon.”
With five of the seven voting members of the Town Council unequivocally against using eminent domain, that option is not available. So what now?
It is certainly possible that the two parties could reach an agreement, but given the Masons’ obvious disgust with the numbers proposed thus far and their “bottom line” set at $1.5 million, it appears the Town will no longer be acting on the behalf of the hotel and buying parking space for it with taxpayer dollars.
It is not just important but necessary to emphasize that the Town’s efforts to acquire Lexington Masonic Lodge #152 property has NOT been an action by the Town Council. In fact one Council member told Lake and Main that “we didn’t know anything about (the hotel project) until it was a done deal.“
So … Lexington Hospitality LLC invests $2 million to buy land for a hotel in downtown Lexington, land NOT SUFFICIENT for a 100 room hotel AND parking. The Town of Lexington approaches the owners of land – the Masons – adjacent to the hotel site and offers to buy their property for peanuts so it can give it to the hotel for a parking facility. The parking would be for hotel guests ONLY. The public – citizens of Lexington and restaurant and shop patrons – would be towed if they tried to use it. And the Town Council WAS NOT INVOLVED in this plan.
Based on documented and/or verifiable facts, we are, then, left with questions:
- Whose idea was it for the Town be the hotel’s agent in purchasing land for it?
- Who thought it not only a good idea, but doable for the Town to acquire the land for a private company?
- Would anyone other than Lexington Hospitality LLC benefit from the construction of a downtown hotel?
- Why would Mayor MacDougall and Councilman Baker not rule out using eminent domain to take property from a world-renown charitable organization like the Freemasons or ANY Lexington resident or business?
- Who does Steve MacDougall represent?