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November 19, 2017

Growing Pains: Public Discusses Bank Swap


It’s a good “problem” to have, if you want to call it a problem. You might want to call it opportunity.

Luther’s First Bank & Trust is out of room for its employees and out of room for customers to park on Main Street. The bank is growing because Luther citizens are seeking more loans to build new homes, buy homes and boats, cars and RVs and invest in their businesses. We are using this bank, in our town, to deposit our paychecks and other deposits. Isn’t that a good economic sign for Luther, no matter what’s going on in the rest of the state? Doesn’t that show growth for our area, and dare we say, modest prosperity?

Luther First Bank & Trust on Main Street

Aerial shot of Dollar General to the left, and the proposed town-owner parcel where the bank has proposed building a new building.

For more than an hour Thursday night, the Luther Town Trustees welcomed public comments about the proposed swap of the current bank building for three acres of prime town-owned Highway 66 property. Remember, this came up at the January Town Board of Trustees with the previous board. 

Would you believe that the town-owned three acres appraised for about $165,000? That math puts it at about $55,000 an acre. The land has Highway 66 frontage and is between the new Dollar General (former Walmart) and the baseball field. The proposal, although not definite, includes some park area and is on top of the unmaintained tennis and basketball court. The bank is yet to contact engineers or architects and doesn’t have any artist’s renderings of their new structure. They have patiently waited (and waited) on the Town before taking those next steps.

Some folks at the meeting said they do not want to lose that slab of concrete where the kids play tennis and basketball. Some nearby neighbors are worried about increased traffic and just how much “park” the bank is going to take. Some thought it unwise for the Town to let go of that prime land when it might be worth a lot more money in the future for commercial opportunity that might generates sales taxes for the Town. Some are obviously still stung about the whole Walmart deal when the Town sold the land that was used for Little League games to the grocer. And that whole thing was made worse by Walmart closing only a few months after opening back in 2015. That still hurts.

There was no negative comment toward the bank. At the meeting, the praise was universal for our local bank, the only one in town, that supports our schools, our teams, our efforts and is sponsoring our Town’s fireworks show next week (on July 4 at Wildhorse Park at 8:30 pm).

Bank president Gary Roy said the bank intends to build about a $1 or $2 million new facility. Somewhere. Roy emphasized it’s no sweat if this swap doesn’t go through. They’ll find other land. However, Bank Vice President Leslie Holman pointed out that if the Town doesn’t take the building, they’re moving out anyway, and there would be another empty building on Main Street. It’s a building valued at just more than $300,000. Any buyers?

There were no decisions at the meeting. Discussion only. To compound matters – when it comes to the bank finding available land that is zoned commercially … there’s no reliable zoning map for the Town. It just hasn’t been done. But Mayor Jenni White said it’s going to get done. The Planning Commission is working on the issue, and there are some options to develop a Master Plan for the Town. A plan that would govern where the commercial property sites would be, where the residential areas would be and where the “green space” would be. It’s something that needs to be done yesterday, but it’s being done now, in efforts to be ready for more anticipated growth in our area. (The turnpike is coming). 

The bank discussion came at the tail end of a two and a half hour Town Special & Planning meeting that was broadcast on the Luther Register’s Facebook page. At last look, there were almost 500 views. However, Trustee Trandy Langston commented that she is disappointed that she knows people have opinions about the swap, but they didn’t come to the meeting. Trustee Jason Roach said he wants to do what the citizens want, and requests their feedback.

http://townoflutherok.com/elected-officials/

Give your feedback to the Town Board. Here’s the link with all of their email addresses. Langston said citizens may also comment at any Town Board meeting because a new meeting policy welcomes comments on any topic.

Trustee Ron Henry said he would like to see the Town save money and build its own Town headquarters encompassing Town Hall, Police Department and Maintenance in one compound. But there’s no money, he pointed out, because the town’s savings, known as the Rainy Day Fund, only has $4,392.74. Incidentally, the board agreed to take up Henry’s request to address the issue of  lack of savings at the regular July meeting.

Town watchers also know that the current Town Hall on Main Street is a dump, for lack of a better term. Trustee Paxton Cavin documented in pictures the condition of the building on her Trustee Facebook page.Roy said the bank building would be move-in ready as soon as the bank exits to its new building. The swap also includes fixtures likes desks and chairs, and a security system. Although the building, an aging structure, has issues that were pointed out in the Town’s inspection. Roy said the bank loves Luther and thought the offer would be a win-win for both. But if not, he said other land will be sought, preferably in Town limits.

The bank needs more space. Town Hall needs to move or have some serious rehab done to its building. Luther needs a Master Plan. For now, this is where the complicated issues stand.

It’s a good problem, or opportunity. It’s obvious there needs to be movement on these issues as quickly as possible. Quicker than the normal wheels of government turn. The evening’s discussion was cordial and thoughtful. There were even a few jokes thrown in. It was public discourse in fine form. Contact a Town Trustee (or comment on this story) with your thoughts and watch the recording of the meeting posted below.

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