The town of Lexington, South Carolina is seeking to condemn the temple of Lexington Lodge 152 using eminent domain for the purpose of constructing a parking lot for a proposed new Springhill Suites by Marriott hotel across the street. There seems to be a somewhat yawning abyss between the two sides concerning the temple's value.
From the LakeAndMain.net website on September 20th, 'A Hotel, The Town,and the Masons'):
In May of this year, it was announced that a vacant lot – and prime piece of real estate – in the middle of downtown Lexington had been purchased by the Lexington Hospitality Group. The intention is to build a hotel, believed to be a Springhill Suites by Marriott, on that Main Street location.
There has been some controversy over the proposed development, primarily about traffic. But then, there’s always concern about traffic in Lexington. One of the main worries of residents and those who do business in town is parking for the hotel. There is precious little parking already and the idea of adding an 80-100 room hotel only elevated curiosity about the project.
Across Butler Street. a block north of Main Street is the Lexington Masonic Lodge #152. According to one Mason who spoke to L&M, Lexington Mayor Steve MacDougall – the main proponent of the hotel – sought to condemn the Masonic property using the authority of eminent domain and construct a parking garage that would service the new hotel. The Lodge would be compensated for the property, but, apparently, in the $300,000 range. The group rejected the offer because the proposed purchase price was far too low. To rebuild and relocate would cost the Masons an estimated $1 million, effecting an almost $700,000 loss for the lodge.
Such is the way of eminent domain. Government decides that private property should used for purposes it determines is “in the best interest of the public.” Assessed value is determined as the purchase price with no regard for owner sentiment or the cost to relocate the residence or business.
Supposedly, the Lodge and Town are negotiating for a solution, but confirmation from the Town or members of the Town Council is difficult. Lake and Main has confirmed that Mayor MacDougall was invited by the Lodge to discuss the issue, but he sent surrogates in his stead.
That confirmation had to come from outside the town council because such matters are discussed in closed or “executive” session, away from public scrutiny. Contract negotiations can be delicate and it is considered prudent to be discrete.
Nonetheless, to condemn via eminent domain the property of such a vaunted organization as the Freemasons is distasteful. It is, of course, the business of the Masonic Lodge what terms will be satisfactory, but woe betide the Mayor if the Town under his direction attempts to force the issue over the Masons’ objection.
A post-script to the story was added Friday, September 21st:
The $300k figure (called “range” in the article is the assessed value of the property. Mayor MacDougall’s plan to condemn (the proper term) the property under eminent domain is based on the assessed value as the initial compensation. If rejected by he owner of the property (the Masons), negotiations are conducted to reach a compromise. That is what happened. Ultimately, if the two parties cannot resolve, the Town can “condemn” and confiscate it and pay the assessed value. In this instance, it has been determined that it will cost the Masonic Lodge an estimated $1 million to purchase land, build a comparable facility and relocate. The Town will most certainly not pony up a million dollars to buy land to build a parking lot/garage for the hotel Mayor MacDougall is promoting. The negotiations are ongoing, though, so it will be the decision of the Lodge as to the outcome. There are “rumors” about a possible solution, but that could not be verified, so it was not published.