Proposed settlement in Phenix City condemnation lawsuit against developer on hold

A proposed deal to settle a lawsuit between Phenix City and a local developer is on hold.

The city filed suit against Realtor/developer Mike Bowden to condemn nearly 15 acres to make way for the on/off ramps at Fifth Avenue and U.S. 80. The suit in Russell County Circuit Court is scheduled for trial in July.

The highway ramps, located just across the Alabama state line on the North bypass, have been constructed and are open.

The Phenix City Council was set to approve a settlement this week and it was placed on the council agenda for Tuesday’s meeting, City Attorney Jimmy Graham said. Mayor Sonny Coulter said he was opposed to the proposed settlement and was not involved in reaching a deal.

The settlement of the three-year-old dispute was taken off the agenda prior to Monday’s work session because of an issue with the city’s ability to swap some property near Southside Park without approval of the U.S. Department of the Interior because federal funds had been used to develop the park, Graham said.

The city and Bowden had agreed to have the dispute mediated, and a hearing was scheduled for last Friday. The apparent settlement was reached as the mediation hearing approached.

“Prior to the trial, the city requested mediation, and we agreed to the mediation,” Bowden said this week. “On the eve of the mediation date, there were some ideas kicked around. Wee have a tentative agreement that will hopefully end the need for a trial.”

Bowden owns more than 30 acres where the ramps were built. In addition to losing 15 acres to the ramps, another 8 acres were land locked by the construction.

The proposed settlement involves more than just the property in question.

The proposed deal involves the following:

• The city will pay Bowden $2 million.

• The city will build a road to the land-locked property within three years or pay Bowden $300,000.

• Bowden will swap the property for the ramps for city-owned property in the same vicinity on Riverchase Drive.

• Bowden will swap property he owns near Cochgalechee Creek for city-owned land adjacent to Rolling Hills subdivision.

• Bowden will build the Caruthers Park subdivision, thus the city can tie onto a road and save an estimated $250,000 for the cost of a connector road between Sanfort Road and U.S. 431 South.

• Bowden will donate land for additional softball field at Southside Park. The city and Bowden have to agree on the site and amount of land.

• The city is not required to pay Bowden any interest.

• Bowden will pay his own attorney fees.

Coulter said he first learned of the deal last Thursday afternoon from Graham.

“I was told we had to make a decision by Thursday night,” Coulter said.

The snag came when, during due diligence, it was discovered that the city could not let the land near Southside Park go without federal approval. That is the reason for the delay on the vote, Graham said.

“We got three votes is my understanding,” Graham said.

Three members of the five-member council — Jimmy Wetzel, Michelle Walker and Arthur Sumbry — are in favor of the deal, Graham said.

“I had been aware that Mr. Bowden was extending a proposal to the city attorney,” Wetzel said.