FARMER CITY — The city council passed two ordinances this week that will vacate two sections of West Street in exchange for about 5 acres of land near the Dollar General Store on Ogle Drive.
Despite public comment against the plan and lingering ethical questions, the measure passed, with the only no vote coming from Councilman Willard McKinley.
Negotiations for the deal have been ongoing for months between lawyers for the city and Jim Swartz, a former Farmer City resident and owner of the majority of adjacent land to the portions of West Street included in the agreement.
Mayor Mike Jenkins said Councilman Josh Hawn had previously sat down with Swartz's representative, Dan Dolbert, and Lynn Amacher, owner of an adjacent property affected by the land deal, to make the deal happen.
Per the terms of the deal, which was freely agreed to by the city and Swartz but forced upon Amacher, a $10,000 sum must be paid from Amacher to Swartz in order to purchase a 32- by 125-foot strip of land that previously belonged to the city, according to Farmer City Mayor Mike Jenkins,.
Without the purchase, Amacher would not be able to access city streets from his property, because the easement and right-of-way previously owned by the city would be transferred to Swartz.
According to City Attorney Kenneth Beth, another contingency on the deal before it can be finalized is a conveyance for the 4.6 acre tract from Swartz's Millenia Park to the city, and a deed conveying the strip of land from Millenia Park to Lynn Amacher.
The land transfers are expected to happen in the next two weeks.
Amacher said this week's council vote came as a surprise, as he was led to believe the deal would be tabled.
Hawn said he knew Amacher, Dolbert and the city were in agreement on a proposal after a meeting last Sunday, but he didn't expect the agreement to be ready for a vote at Monday's meeting.
Hawn said he called a few concerned residents to fill them in on the details of the verbal agreement reached between parties Sunday, and "as an aside" told them he "didn't think there was any way the lawyers would have the proposal ready for Monday."
Hawn said he went to the council meeting expecting to have the agreement tabled or removed from the agenda, but received news to the contrary when he sat down.
Hawn said he decided to vote on the issue despite it being put together quickly, because he did not want to give the deal time to fall apart.
Lynn Amacher said there was an agreement in the works, but he said by approximately 4 p.m., his lawyers had not seen the final agreement from Swartz's attorney.
"It is not a full written agreement yet. I was under the idea that we were going to have time to work on it before it came to council for the official vote."
McKinley, the lone vote against both measures, said he was primarily opposed to the deal-making process.
"The one thing I don't like about this is the way the whole deal was cooked, and I'm upset with the mayor and the city manager who cooked this deal," McKinley said.
McKinley added that there were too many factors not taken into consideration while the deal was reached, and he pointed to Amacher as an example. He also noted that Casey's General Store, the company expected to purchase the 5-acre plot from the city, has done "a lot of good" for Farmer City, but he said if they wanted a deal, "they should have done it themselves."
Jenkins said he spoke to representatives from Casey's after the meeting and said they were "very, very happy" the deal went through.
He added that the purchase of the newly acquired 5 acres by Dollar General Store "will happen. And it will happen quickly."
It is up to Swartz what he will do with the newly acquired sections of West Street, but he is expected to landscape over the streets, closing them to the public and adjoining the land he owns.
The affected formerly public property falls on West Street between Water Street and Green Street, and Green Street and Market Street. No East- or West-bound streets would be affected.
The land swap is expected to be finalized within the next two weeks, closing the streets to the public.