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City eyes property purchase from St. Helens mayor

Discussions to purchase a $300,000 property from Mayor Randy Peterson held in executive sessions

PetersonThe city of St. Helens is in discussions to purchase a piece of property worth more than $300,000 from the city’s mayor.

In May, members of the St. Helens City Council and city staff held an executive session meeting to discuss the possibility of purchasing a 0.6-acre piece of commercial property from its owner, Randy Peterson, the St. Helens mayor. Peterson has owned and operated an active storage business, called Citizen Storage, on the property for 30 years.

City Administrator John Walsh said Peterson, who was looking to sell the property, was “essentially offering it to the city first.” Peterson brought the matter to the council under real property transactions, which allows governing bodies to hold closed session meetings to discuss property purchases.

During the executive session, Peterson excused himself from the conversation, Walsh said, and the council made the call to have the property appraised. The City Council plans to review the property’s appraised value in closed executive session at the next regular board meeting, July 20.

An assessment of the property on file with the Columbia County Assessor’s Office in 2015 assigns the property an assessed value of $241,950, with a real market value of $336,060.

The city currently owns two properties which lie on either side of Peterson’s land, including the city’s Public Works Department’s offices and vehicle maintenance shop. Obtaining the land between the two presents the city with “an opportunity for assemblage regardless of who owns it,” Walsh added. If the city purchased the land, it would create a 5-acre parcel that could be used for later development.

WalshDuring an interview Wednesday, Walsh equated the potential purchase to the city’s purchase of the former Boise White Paper site and Boise Veneer mill.

By purchasing the parcels of property to unite them, it creates development possibilities that didn’t previously exist, Walsh explained.

It’s possible if the city buys the land, city staff would look for another lessee to rent the property to, not Peterson, Walsh said. He added that the council could decide not to purchase the property given the results of the appraisal, and added that the next steps are not clear.

“We’re not quite there yet. I don’t know if there’s even traction to move it to the next step,” Walsh said. “With the appraisal value the city could say, ‘No way.’ I think it’s at least a good idea to look at it.”

The matter was going to be discussed in open session, Walsh added, but information about the negotiations in executive sessions was leaked before the conversation could get to that point.

“It’s not a back room deal by any stretch. And it’s certainly not a done deal,” Walsh added.