HC Courthouse: serve and volley

Published 10:28 pm Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Have you ever had an inkling to take in the sights, sounds and tradition of a tennis tournament at such famed venues as Melbourne Park, Roland Garros Stadium, All England Tennis Club or the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center?

Those “Grand Slam” professional events attract thousands in attendance each year. But why invest the time, money and effort to make those trips when there is a hotly contested tennis match being played in Hertford County.

About the only way I can describe the ongoing debate – both in open meetings and the volume of telephone calls this reporter has received – of where to build the county’s new courthouse is it’s a masterful “serve and volley” tennis match.

The on court rivalry between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe doesn’t come close to matching the intensity of the Winton Commissioners vs. the Hertford County Commissioners in their back-and-forth jabs over the courthouse.

I guess we all thought the early advantage was in Winton’s corner. As the seat of county government since the Earth’s core first cooled, that historic town has been home to most all of the county’s offices.

In its infancy, the new courthouse project was destined to be built across the street from the current courthouse. Plans were drawn, surveys were performed and all was set to move along on this needed project. County officials were waiting on town leaders to approve two variances – one that lessened the normal footage the town required for a new building from a street; and two, a vehicle parking plan. Winton officials were concerned, and rightly so, over the fact that once the construction began in an area serving as the largest parking lot in town, the adjacent streets would be packed with parked vehicles, especially on court days.

As we all know by now, the town approved the setback variance, but shot down the county’s parking plan. Thus began a tennis match, originally between eight players (landowners wanting to sell their property to the county to site the new courthouse).

In the end, the match was trimmed to three major players – Percy Bunch of Murfreesboro, Stuart Pierce of Ahoskie and the Riversedge partners and their site near Winton.

Even though the per acre offer was cheaper at Riversedge, perhaps it was the feud between Winton and county elected leaders that eliminated that particular parcel from the final three. Advantage: Murfreesboro and Ahoskie.

According to a 10-page report from a Charlotte-based firm asked to perform a site assessment of the Bunch and Pierce properties, the latter was deemed more favorable due to its multiple connections to two adjacent roads; its “ready” status to connect to water and sewer; it was more centrally located; and had a positive aesthetic quality due to a higher elevation. Advantage: Ahoskie.

However, the Bunch property came at a cheaper price ($7,500 per acre compared to $13,000 for the Pierce parcel). Advantage: Murfreesboro.

The county commissioners, earlier this month, chose to enter into an option agreement to purchase the Bunch property. Advantage: Murfreesboro.

Just when we thought the courthouse would relocate to the ‘Boro, Riversedge comes creeping back into the picture. This past Friday, the owners of that development made the county an offer they can’t refuse – free land. Game & Set: Winton.

Is this the end of the match? Will the five umpires – aka the county commissioners – award the courthouse trophy to Winton? Will Mr. Bunch counter with a free land deal as well? Will Mr. Pierce volley with a sweet offer of his own?

Stay tuned folks….there’s no telling where that fuzzy little yellow ball will bounce next.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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