ROCK FALLS – A city panel is taking a closer look at the use of farmland it controls in the eastside industrial park.
The city’s Industrial Development Commission leases the 45-acre property on McNeil Road to the Witmer family for grain production. Livestock is not permitted within the industrial park.
The lease agreement is up for renewal, and a proposal was submitted to the IDC for a 2-year extension at $250 dollars an acre – the same amount as the previous agreement.
The panel instead recommended a 1-year lease extension with the Witmers for $250 an acre. The recommendation also called for the city to pursue estimates for fair market value of the property.
Given the increasing value of farmland, Rock Falls Mayor Bill Wescott said, there has been some local interest in the property.
“Big-farm families are always looking for more acreage,” Wescott said. “Someone asked about this property recently, and I told him we’re probably going to extend [the lease].”
Wescott said that, while city officials are happy with the current lease arrangement, the IDC would consider any formal offers.
Both the mayor and City Administrator Robbin Blackert said that any recent inquiries about the land were not driving the process.
“It’s prudent to look at the city’s land regularly and review it to consider if there are better stewardship options,” Blackert said.
The discussion on what to do with the land probably won’t continue in earnest until the beginning of 2014, when estimates for land value come back.
The McNeil Road property is one of two blocks of farmland within the city’s industrial parks that are leased. The other is about 60 acres on the west side in the new industrial park near the sewer plant along Clearwater Drive. The IDC doesn’t yet have control of the property in the new industrial park. The land was part of the sewer plant property acquisition.
The property in the new industrial park is much better suited for commercial development than the McNeil Drive farmland is.
“While it’s [McNeil Drive] a good piece of property, I wouldn’t put it high on the list of developable land,” said Sandy Henrekin, Rock Falls Community Development executive director.
No utilities are hooked up to that property, and transportation accessibility is limited.
“I wouldn’t cross it off the list, but the property in the new industrial park is in a better location and has more going for it,” Henrekin said.
The money from the lease agreement has come in handy for overall development purposes. Wescott said each property brings from $12,000 to $14,000 to the city each year.
Blackert said the 2011 demolition of the Martini building on the RB&W project site was paid for with the McNeil property income. That building fell outside the scope of the EPA because there were no contaminants found. The IDC entered an interest-free, 5-year payment plan for the Riverfront demolition.