Lenoir may be developing 'watershed property' instead of selling

May. 28, 2014 @ 08:31 AM

A 568-acre tract Lenoir owns off of Zacks Fork Road may be more likely to be opened for recreational use than sold to a developer for a subdivision.

Larry Caudill of Carolinas Land Inc. presented the city council May 20 with an $835,540 offer to buy the tract, known as "the watershed property." The developer would include the site in plans it has for a larger, 1,900-acre tract containing five other properties alongside the one owned by the city.

It was the second time in less than a year that a developer has approached the city with an offer to buy the property, which the city acquired in several purchases from 1923 to 1930. The property was once used as a water source for the city, and a dam, now not in use, is still there.

But at the city’s Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday, Dennie Martin of consulting firm Martin-McGill recommended the city not sell the property, instead developing hiking and mountain-biking trails. The area's steep hillsides make it largely unsuitable for residenial development, Martin said, and it is nearly three miles from the nearest water and sewer lines.

The property's current county-assessed value is a little more than $1 million, or $1,828 per acre.

If the city were to sell the property, it would have to be through a bidding process, not a negotiated price with a single buyer,  City Manager Lane Bailey said.

The property is vacant, aside from a firing range on a six- to eight-acre site maintained by the Lenoir Police Department and used by and number of other agencies in the region, as well as the N.C. Highway Patrol and other state law enforcement agencies. When a potential buyer approached the city last year, Police Chief Scott Brown made an argument for the value of the firing range, which because of its remote site generates none of the noise complaints that usually dog firing ranges, and said it could cost $500,000 to create a new firing range.

The firing range includes two shooting lanes, a two-story range house, a house used for building-entry training and a K-9 obstacle course. It costs $1,500 annually to maintain; frequent users are charged $200 annually, and infrequent users are charged $25 per day, Brown said.

City Councilman Ron Stilwell proposed sectioning off parts of the property that the city could use, including the firing range and possibly the area around the dam, while using the rest for conservation easement and recreation.

City staff is looking into placing a conservation easement on the property, which would prevent development, and evaluating the potential for putting the dam back into use, recreation facilities, and seeking the General Assembly's permission to annex the property into the city.

Developer Southern Land NC made an unsolicited offer to buy the property in June 2013 for about $852,000, part of a larger attempt by the company to buy 1,915 acres there. In July, council members said they needed more information about the property before they could decide whether the city should sell it.