Appraisals doom hope of rail trail progress


March 11, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Seems Iola, Kansas, is a real estate Mecca.
And Iola commissioners were the last to know.
We’re talking about the two-block-long strip of land that borders the old railroad bed west of town. You know the place.
It stretches from the entrance of town on Highway 54 south to Bruner Street. At its widest it’s 135 feet and tapers to half that as it proceeds south.
The heavy construction equipment and railroad “memorabilia” strewn along its entire depth make it recognizable. Some of it has value. Most is rusted junk among which broken bricks are scattered in waist-high weeds.

HERE WAS the dream.
Clean the mess and situate a small park along what hopefully will be an extension of the Prairie Spirit Trail. The trail currently ends at Cofachique Park. The hope is that its destination would be Riverside Park, where swimming pool, ball fields, restrooms, concession stand and ample parking exist.
A distinctive sign arching over the trail would designate the path and entrance to the park.
On the east side of new soccer fields would be a small park complete with picnic tables, a drinking fountain and restrooms. The facilities would benefit both soccer fans and trail enthusiasts.
The scene would speak volumes about what kind of town Iola is — to newcomers and old-timers alike.

HERE’S THE reality.
The land bordering the old rail bed west of town recently was appraised at $138,500. On the county’s books it is valued at $1,980.
The land specified is in two parcels; the larger to the south of Highway 54, the smaller to the north extending to West Street.
Last fall, city commissioners tried to strike a deal with owner Jack McFadden to purchase  the  parcels, knowing the county’s appraisal was less than $2,000. McFadden initially asked $20,000, then within days jacked his price to $70,000. Commissioners  balked and went the route of eminent domain to force McFadden to sell to the city.
A formal appraisal was demanded. Three professionals came back with the price tag of $138,500 — a 7,000 percent increase over the county’s  appraisal.
And we thought we were in a recession.
What really makes the transaction formidable is another $110,000 the city is supposed to pay to relocate Johnnie Womack’s equipment — which, ironically, is used to move heavy things.

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