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Cleveland, Liberty County come to agreement on contested land deal

December 17, 2018

At first glance it might have looked like a standoff at the OK Corral.

Gathered inside the Hartel Building in downtown Liberty, on one side of the table seated in their tall-back leather chairs were the Liberty County Commissioners with the county attorney standing behind them with folded arms.

Across the table were officials from the city of Cleveland flanked by their own attorney. What looked an obvious fight, turned into an amicable agreement to save a land deal to the benefit of both parties.

Officials met to dice out the details of a land deal originally made by previous commissioner Eddie Lowery.

For most of 30 minutes, commissioners looked over a detailed map, listened to a proposal by the Cleveland entourage and debated the way they could make the best of the situation.

A deal was struck that made sense to both parties, officials said.

“After we saw a lot of the information the city of Cleveland had [for us] and we were able to sit down to discuss it, I believe we have a plan that’s going to help both the city and the county a great deal in the future,” said Liberty County Attorney Matthew Poston.

“I’m much more optimistic about this than I was in the past,” he said.

The discussion focused on an interlocal agreement between the county and the city of Cleveland for a 2.42 tract of land in Cleveland at FM 1010 and the 105 Loop to be used for future municipal facilities.

Cleveland officials rolled out a large map that detailed the larger 8-acres and how it was to be divvied out originally and where the deal was caught in a dilemma.

“This .731 acres is what the city has purchased out of this tract a couple of years after we discussed the swap,” said Cleveland city manager Kelly McDonald.

According to McDonald, the city paid $20,000 for the near-acre of land.

“This 2.24 acres is what was originally discussed as a swap for municipal facilities and this is an acre that was discussed for a future sheriff’s office annex,” she pointed on the map.

The difficulty preventing the land deal swap was a temporary road installed by the county that is smack in the middle of the land to be exchanged. That, along with an easement of 100-feet would prevent the city from doing anything with the land because it would be too small for development.

“This road didn’t exist when we first started talking about this and made the purchase,” McDonald said.

“We purchased this piece of property to go forward with the swap for this,” she said.

The road, however, appeared shortly after Hurricane Harvey struck the county and the road was put in to stage the debris cleanup for the ultimate haul-off.

“During the cleanup is when he reinforced the road for the large trucks to haul off the debris,” said Commissioner Bruce Karbowski.

There is a buffer zone that was promised to neighboring residents of 100-foot of a tree line to prevent them from both light and noise pollution.

The existing road is comprised of gravel, dirt, and aggregate.

At one time, there was hope that TxDOT would put in an exit there, but that plan was nixed by the state.

“The only way that would happen is if the proposed convenience store would spend the money to move the exit back and that’s about a million dollars, so I don’t see that happening anytime soon,” McDonald said.

The city said they needed about 2.5 acres for a fire station.

The existing road can be moved from the current location to butt up next to the buffer zone and that would give both the county and the city the access they need.

“This would give those living in that area better insurance rates with a fire station in their neighborhood and a sheriff’s substation next door,” Commissioner Wilson said.

“With one nice road it would benefit all parties,” Olson said.

The area has already been annexed by the city of Cleveland.

Rod Hainey, CFM, director of public works for Cleveland, said 95 percent or more of the existing road can be salvaged and moved to the location that would benefit both the city and the county.

“If the county will move the existing material and stabilize the base, the city will come in and put the 8-10 inches of concrete on top,” he said.

With that, commissioners found themselves in agreement with the city.

All that’s left now is work on the interlocal agreement, better maps, and a revised deed.

The cost to the county would run somewhere in the vicinity of $40,000, and the city would absorb the cost of the concrete.

“Just as I hoped, all the parties involved were very reasonable and they all had the community’s best interest at heart. I was sure it would work out and it did,” Poston said.

All parties were all satisfied in the end.

“Essentially we wanted to hash out what responsibilities both parties had for doing this deal which it mutually benefits both the city and the county because both the city and the county need facilities down there to improve response times,” said Cleveland city attorney David Olson.

“We’ve worked out a deal that makes sense and utilizes the city’s 7.31 acres that we were going to deed as part of this deal to the county will reserve an access easement giving us rights to put a nice concrete road in there once the county relocates the base to that facility and stabilizes it. Both parties win,” he said.

Commissioners and city officials said they would set a timeline to keep the project on schedule and most likely would be included in the next budget year which begins in October.

The agreement is expected to be back on commissioner’s agenda in the near future and the issue finally satisfied.

dtaylor@hcnonline.com

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