‘Concerned Citizens’ asks for delay in courthouse construction

Published 9:39 am Thursday, February 2, 2012

The issue of where to build Hertford County’s new courthouse has taken yet another twist.

On Tuesday, the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald received a press release from a group calling themselves The Concerned Citizens of Hertford County. A spokesperson said the group, comprised of individuals from different communities in the county, wished to remain anonymous at this point in time.

They have retained legal counsel, not to bring a lawsuit against the county, but rather to “evaluate how this project has been handled to date” as stated in the press release.

According to additional information provided, the attorney representing the group will make a formal request to the county commissioners, county manager and county attorney for information to include minutes of meetings and any other correspondence which is or should be a matter of public record.

That request was scheduled to be made on Tuesday or Wednesday of this week.

“Few issues in recent years in Hertford County have generated as much public interest as the building and location of the proposed new Hertford County Courthouse,” the press release stated. “This issue will have significant historical and financial implications for many years to come.

“It is an issue so important that it requires careful consideration of all options. The most important obligation that our County Commissioners have is to make a sound and fiscally responsible decision which will be in the best interest of Hertford County.”

The group, according to the release, was “united to impede the process by the Hertford County Commissioners to purchase land in the Murfreesboro area to locate the proposed Hertford County Courthouse.”

“Our group does not advocate any specific site or location for the courthouse,” the release said.  “We advocate that the Hertford County Commissioners reconsider all options for the proposed Hertford County Courthouse project.

“This is an opportunity for the citizens of Hertford County to offer their opinions and suggestions about the Hertford County Courthouse project.  If you are so inclined and wish to join with the Concerned Citizens of Hertford County, please direct your correspondence to the address shown below (concernedcitizensofhc@gmail.com or Concerned Citizens of Hertford County, P.O. Box 707, Ahoskie, NC 27910). Keep in mind that our group is non-political and has no agenda other than opening civil and well- mannered discourse in matters directly related to the Hertford County Courthouse project,” the press release concluded.

The request made by the citizens group to put everything back on the table regarding the courthouse construction project is the latest in a series of recent maneuvers on this issue.

On Friday of last week, Hertford County Manager Loria Williams said she received a hand delivered letter from the controlling partners representing ASP Riversedge LLC. Those property owners offered 25 acres of free land so that the county could locate its new complex, including the courthouse, on the corner of US 158 and Parker’s Ferry Road.

The Riversedge development, located just west of Winton, is controlled by Ahoskie businessman Preston Wood, legendary Ahoskie High School football coach Al Vaughan and Scott Camp, representing the heirs of the S.V. Camp family of Franklin, Va.

That property was among the three finalists for the courthouse construction. It was originally offered for $20,000 per acre, with the owners paying for $500,000 worth of infrastructure improvements. That offer was eventually lowered to $7,000 per acre, with the county covering the cost of the infrastructure.

A spokesperson for the Riversedge partners later clarified the infrastructure improvements, saying the lone stipulation to the free land was for the county, upon connecting to the Town of Winton sewer line, to install a pipe large enough and provide a manhole access to that pipe for the Riversedge commercial property to connect. He added that Riversedge will construct its own wastewater lift/pump stations on the property.

In December, the commissioners narrowed the list to two – the Percy Bunch property located off the US 158/258 bypass near Murfreesboro ($7,500 per acre for 25 acres) and a 25-acre tract owned by Stuart Pierce near Frazier’s Crossroads on NC 561 west of Ahoskie ($13,000 per acre).

At their Jan. 3 meeting, the board, in a 3-2 vote, selected the Bunch property for the construction project. Two weeks later, at their Jan. 17 meeting, the commissioners voted 5-0 to enter into an option agreement with Bunch for his property. That agreement is not an outright purchase. Rather it gives the county 120 days in which to perform their “due diligence” to include title examination, utilities (mechanical and engineering studies) and study the site for possible environmental issues. At the end of that 120-day period the county can either elect to purchase or not purchase the property for cause or no cause.

The next scheduled meeting of the Hertford County Board of Commissioners is 9 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 6 in Winton.

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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