FARMER CITY — A possible land swap has some residents wondering whether the potential for more tax dollars is worth giving up city-owned property.
City officials have been negotiating with former Farmer City resident Jim Swartz for over a year in the hopes of gaining 5 acres of land he owns on South Ogle Drive near the current Dollar General store. The city would sell the property to Casey's so it could expand its store.
In exchange for the 5 acres, Swartz, who currently owns an estate encompassing large sections of land on Green and Market Street, has requested ownership of two one-block sections of West Street, totaling about half an acre.
If Swartz were given the property, two segments of West Street would then be closed to traffic permanently, prohibiting drivers from going north or south on West Street between Market and Water Street.
City Manager Larry Woliung said Swartz has wanted to own that particular property for a long time because he owns the land adjacent to it. Swartz plans to remove the pavement, plant grass and landscape the area, Woliung said.
Farmer City Mayor Mike Jenkins believes the land exchange would be a positive move.
"It is a good deal for the city. If we get this, there is a very good chance that this is the economic boost that we need," Jenkins said.
Jenkins noted while the city will lose almost half an acre of land in the exchange, the benefits more than outweigh the loss.
"We stand to lose a half an acre of land in exchange for five acres of a prime location. We turnkey this and put in an expanded business who will increase the number of jobs and additionally increase the number of tax dollars that come into the community," Jenkins said.
He also pointed out the old Casey's building would then be available for another new business to take over.
But some residents are skeptical about the deal.
Teri Kelley of Farmer City, who lives on Water Street, says while she agrees Farmer City needs a new Casey's store, she believes Casey's should be negotiating their own deal.
"I adamantly oppose our city officials giving up two sections of our two city streets in order to satisfy the demands of someone who will not stop at only two streets. This deal is inconceivable to me and I adamantly oppose it," Kelley said.
Jenkins said Swartz was unwilling to work with Casey's independently.
Woliung said the 5 acres currently owned by Swartz is a good location for Casey's to expand because the city's cost to bring utilities there would be minimal. He also noted there wasn't any other areas in town suitable for Casey's to expand.
Jenkins said the amount of money the city would receive from Casey's for the sale of the 5 acres would go back to the infrastructure fund.
"We don't want to lose another store and at the same time we are trying to do what we promised to do and that's bring economic development here," Jenkins said.
The council hasn't set a date yet but plans to hold a special open meeting to discuss the issues further.