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Pooler officials buy up land for new municipal complex

  • The city of Pooler has purchased and cleared these three lots along West Collins Street to serve as an overflow parking lot for the city’s forthcoming municipal complex. (Kelly Quimby/Savannah Morning News)

In addition to the $18.1 million the city of Pooler is spending on construction of a new municipal complex on U.S. 80, officials in the growing city have spent $1.8 million on land for the complex since work began two years ago.

The majority of the money spent on property — about $1.5 million — went toward the land directly underneath the complex, which is being built around the existing city hall on U.S. 80.

But city officials over the past year also have been investing quietly in several nearby lots, which they’re clearing and converting into a lot for overflow parking.

City Manager Robbie Byrd said this week it may not be necessary to build an overflow lot right away. Plans for the municipal complex include on-site parking for the forthcoming municipal courtroom, which is being built on the southeast corner in the footprint of the former Fire Station No. 1.

But based on the current facility’s experience during court days, the city manager said, it’s easy to see why the additional parking is a good idea.

On Thursdays, he said, visitors to the municipal courtroom are already parking across U.S. 80 on Collins Street and walking across the highway to attend court.

So in January 2015, council members made their first off-site acquisition for the project, purchasing a pair of residential properties at 109 and 113 West Collins St. for a combined $130,000.

A year later, they bought the land next door at 117 West Collins St. for $125,000.

And last month, the City Council voted to buy property a few blocks away from city hall at the corner of West Tietgen and South Rogers streets. Byrd said this property, a $30,000 expense, is slated to become the access point to the three lots on Collins.

“Whoever wants to go to the courthouse would go to that corner we just purchased,” he said.

The city manager added that in conjunction with the additional parking, the city will make improvements to Highway 80’s intersection with South Rogers and South Chestnut streets to enhance safety for pedestrians.

Pooler will also install berms between the parking lot and surrounding residences to buffer them from the noise.

Although the city’s purchase of the land for municipal use removes the property from the tax rolls, the city manager said it was worth both the expense and the future loss in property taxes. What existed on-site before were eyesores, he said, and their removal has improved the area’s aesthetic.

“We had some issues with people squatting in those houses that were over there,” Byrd said. “We cleaned those up.”

The city of Pooler is continuing to encourage businesses in the area that want to follow suit, he said.

Byrd said the city is in the process of codifying incentives for commercial property owners to redevelop businesses on the U.S. 80 corridor and is offering a waiver of building permit fees, water and sewer tap fees and fees charged to businesses for their contribution to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

The city manager said he’s received several calls asking about the incentives but, so far, no commitments.

Work on the Pooler municipal complex — which will house the city police department, administrative offices, council chambers and municipal courtroom — continues to move ahead of schedule. Byrd said this week the facility is still on path to be finished this fall.

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Breakout Box: 

Property expenses related to the Pooler municipal complex project:

• November 2013: settlement with the owner of the shopping center previously located on site of complex, $1.2 million

• January 2015: city purchases 109 and 113 West Collins St., $130,000

• April 2015: award granted to owner of Whiteway Laundry after city acquired the leasehold through eminent domain, $37,000

• October 2015: settlement with Pizza Hut on site of complex, $285,000

• December 2015: city funds removal of asbestos at 109 West Collins, $7,700

• January 2016: city purchases 117 West Collins St., $125,000

• March 2016: city purchases property at the corner of West Tietgen and South Rogers streets contingent upon clear title, $30,000

TOTAL: $1.81 million

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