Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 1, 2013

School, Leelanau Superfund site close to being sold

BY MICHAEL WALTON mwalton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

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TRAVERSE CITY — A drawn-out sale of three pieces of government-owned property -- including an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site -- is almost complete, local officials said.

It's been about 18 months since Traverse City Area Public Schools and Leelanau County began negotiating with a private buyer for the sale of Norris Elementary School, as well as the former site of Grand Traverse Overall Supply commercial laundry and an adjacent residential property.

"I'm feeling we are close to the end here," said Trudy Galla, director of the Leelanau County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority and the county's planning director. "The county and (TCAPS) have done everything they need to do. Now the buyer and the EPA just need to work everything out."

The buyer, Ed Young, is a New York-based artist and author of children's books. He wants to open a public recreation and arts center on the East Cherry Bend Road properties.

Young could not be reached for comment.

Young offered about $435,000 to TCAPS for the Norris facilities in the fall of 2011 and about $42,500 to the county for both of its properties in May 2012.

But several factors complicated the deal, not least of which are contamination issues. The EPA finished excavating contaminated soil from the county-owned Superfund site in December 2011.

EPA crews also installed a system to filter water runoff from the site through a cleaning system and negotiated ongoing rights to access that system.

TCAPS has dealt with EPA matters, too, including similarly granting ongoing access to a vapor extraction system at Norris.

The EPA also required the buyer to conduct a $50,000 environmental study of the Norris site, even though the district had already worked with the EPA on "volumes" of environmental studies, Paul Soma, TCAPS chief financial officer, said.

TCAPS trimmed $50,000 off Young's original bid to offset study costs. The EPA removed a lien on the Norris property once the assessment was complete.

Non-environmental roadblocks also cropped up.

A deed for the Norris property from the 1870s states the land reverts back to the heirs of the Norris family if the site is no longer used as a school.

The district offered the Norris heirs 10 percent of the sale's proceeds to settle the lingering ownership detail, Soma said.

The county meanwhile had to knock down a vacant house on the residential property in December 2012.

Now it seems only one hurdle remains.

Young is negotiating with the EPA to ensure the agency does not place a second lien on the property once it is sold, or if it increases in market value.

"They just want that assurance," Galla said.

EPA officials could not be reached for comment.

TCAPS and Leelanau County officials expressed cautious optimism about a finalized sale.

Several community groups like the YMCA and TC Total Crossfit pay TCAPS for use of the Norris facilities.

But TCAPS still spends roughly $15,000 to $20,000 annually on the former school. The district wants to alleviate those costs, Soma said.

"Our time and money and energy could be better spent serving the buildings where we do have students," Soma said.

Leelanau County Administrator Chet Janik called a completed sale a "win-win situation."

"It gets the property back on the tax roles, it gets the enviornmental issues resolved and the property can be used again," Janik said.