Commissioners approve Napier land purchasePublished 5:54pm Thursday, March 7, 2013
ST. JOSEPH — The Berrien County Commissioners on Thursday voted 7-2 to purchase land on Napier Avenue in Benton Township that could one day become a county campus.
The land includes a 61,000-square-foot auto dealership building, a 153,000-square-foot parking lot and undeveloped land on 26 acres.
The commission purchased the land, 2149 E. Napier Ave., for $1.9 million.
The county also owns nearly 50 acres located next to the land, which could provide the space one day to house all county facilities.
Along with the purchase of the Napier property, the county also voted to build a new animal control facility on the property for $2.8 million; renovate the county jail for $3.9 million; and consolidate the five health departments in Benton Harbor into one location at Napier for $2.2 million.
The total cost of these projects is approximately $11 million.
Mac Elliot, 10th District, and John Klimek, 12th District, were the only commissioners voting against the purchase.
Elliot said he is concerned the purchase will eventually lead to the building of a central campus at the Napier location.
“Just as we can count on the birds flying south in the winter, we can count on a challenge to maintain court and prosecutor operations in Niles,” Elliot said.
Klimek said, in looking at the proposal, he sees all the money and jobs going to the north part of the county.
“I am voting no — I just don’t see how this helps us at all in the south county,” he said.
Commissioner Jim Curran, 11th District, said he doesn’t believe purchasing the Napier property will result in jobs or services being taken away from the southern portion of the county.
“I see it as a win-win,” Curran said. “It doesn’t impact the South County Building at all — it doesn’t impact Niles at all.”
Commissioners Mamie Yarbrough, Jeanette Leahey and Neal Nitz were absent.
Three people spoke in the public comment portion of Thursday’s meeting. All were against the purchase.
Jan Personette, of Niles, said she felt like voters didn’t have a say in this process, while Dave Mongeon, also of Niles, suggested the commissioners go for a bond to pay for the project.
“I’d like to see the voters have a say for whether this project goes forward. Without a bond, we don’t’ have that,” he said.
Commissioner Andy Vavra, 9th District, spoke in support of the purchase.
“I do not believe it is that big of an inconvenience and the accessibility to this site is much better than what we have now,” he said. “It is going to allow us to upgrade facilities that are, in my opinion, unacceptable.”