May 22--The city is poised to purchase a 30-foot-wide strip of land that divides the old Circuit City property and the former Norfolk Southern right-of-way near Town Center — a necessary move if the city is to develop a light-rail station there.
The City Council will vote today on whether to purchase the property, which runs adjacent to the railroad tracks between Independence Boulevard and Thalia Creek.
The land, about 1.33 acres in total, is owned by a private trust and valued at $148,000. The city has negotiated to buy it for $300,000.
It could not be developed on its own but is adjacent to the former Circuit City parcel, which is city property.
"It's critical to the linkage between the light-rail line and the Circuit City property," said Mark Wawner, a project manager in the city's economic development office.
Opponents question the timing of the purchase. The city hasn't made a firm commitment to light rail, and voters will be asked in a non-binding referendum this fall whether they support extending The Tide light-rail system from Norfolk into the city.
"If there is light rail, it is going to be a critical piece of property," Councilman Bill DeSteph said. "But as of today, it's not. The folks haven't voted on light rail, and we shouldn't be making decisions as if they have."
Light-rail opponents voiced similar concerns in 2009 when the city purchased the former Circuit City site for $5 million, and again months later when it purchased the 10.6-mile rail right of way for $40 million.
Acquiring the 30-foot-wide strip was always part of the long-term plan, Wawner said. The city, he said, would have purchased it along with the Circuit City site had it not been for a title discrepancy. The owners of the property, R.E. Townsend Land Trust, approached the city recently and asked to move forward with the sale, he said.
Even without light rail, the property will be essential to the expansion of Town Center, Councilman Jim Wood said.
"As far as I'm concerned, this is nothing more than an extension of the Circuit City property," Wood said. "With or without light rail, it still has a direct connection to the future development of Town Center."
The council meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. at City Hall.
Mike Hixenbaugh, 757-222-5117, firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2012 - The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.