‘Tall Glass’ holds more

Published 11:46 am Monday, January 21, 2019

WINDSOR – The Bertie County Board of Commissioners have announced plans to purchase an additional 10.35 acres located on the Albemarle Sound adjacent to the 137 acres the county acquired in 2015, colloquially known as the ‘Tall Glass of Water’.

The additional acres would provide a public access area to the sound front location.

Last December (2018), outgoing Commission chair Ernestine Bazemore encouraged her fellow Commissioners to complete the transaction, one of several ‘priorities’ on the Board’s ‘wish-list’; the others being the completion of EMS Station One in Windsor and finishing the Blue Jay Recreation Center in the western portion of the county.

“The Board’s decision to acquire the adjoining 10.35 acre tract on the Albemarle Sound is critically important for eliminating the restrictive easement requirements, and is a necessary step in order to capitalize on the county’s investment,” noted current Board chairman John Trent. “With each step, the Board is changing the future for Bertie County and creating new opportunities for our children and families in the years to come.”

Following a closed session discussion with county attorney Lloyd Smith, the Commissioners voted unanimously to secure the adjoining ‘beach path’ property. The decision was based on a real estate appraisal report dated Oct. 3, 2018.

The county’s current 137-acre tract is shown outlined in yellow. The V-shaped tract on the north side with the red dot is the 10.35 acres the county is seeking to acquire. At the very top of the photo is US 17. Access to the county’s property is on Bal Gra Road.

“This ‘Resolution Authorizing Exercise of the Power of Eminent Domain’ describes the 10.35 acre tract as integral for establishing public access to the recreational waters of the Albemarle Sound, which is a major priority for the county and in the public interest of the citizens of Bertie County,” said Bertie County Manager Scott Sauer.

Trent made the motion, seconded by Commissioner Ron Wesson, to adopt the resolution which provides a legal description for the property, outlines procedures for giving notice to the current property owners of the county’s intent to use its authority for eminent domain, and declares compensation and fair market value of $120,000 for the purchase. The motion was passed unanimously.

The Board’s vote directs Smith to prepare all necessary documents to complete the acquisition, the notice for which was sent Jan. 9 by certified mail.

However, if a negotiated sale is not completed by Feb. 28, then court papers will be filed on March 1 as the next step toward the county securing the property.

During the last budget ordinance, the Commissioners allocated $250,000 in the current fiscal year (2018-2019) for the Tall Glass of Water project to provide improved public accessibility to the waterfront recreation area. The funds will cover the costs for acquiring the adjoining 10.35 acre tract, plus the first phase of accessibility improvements.

Smith initially attempted to negotiate on the county’s behalf for the purchase of this same tract in mid-2016, but without success. This occurred at the same time the county was also seeking grant funding through the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management to cover the costs of land acquisition and improving the beach path access.

While the 10.35 acre tract contains freshwater forest wetlands, an estimated 56 percent of the acreage has been cleared, including approximately 140 feet of waterfront, accessible by a 60-foot easement from Bal-Gra Road.

“Development of the proposed draft site plan improvements is very challenging under the existing deed restrictions,” said Sauer. “Two sets of restrictions were recorded, both in 1998 and in 2015, and they are deemed to be in conflict with one another.”

“After extensive legal review, the county attorney has determined that resolving the deed restriction issue can be most efficiently achieved through acquiring the adjoining 10.35 acres, known as the Bell Heirs Tract,” the County Manager stated.

As early as 2013, Bertie Commissioners identified four strategic business clusters: Agribusiness, Biomass and Energy, Adventure Tourism, and Waterfront Expansion as areas of focus for the county’s economic development efforts.

“As initially envisioned, Bertie County’s Adventure Tourism efforts would capitalize on natural and wildlife resources for activities such as hunting, fishing, bird watching and eco-tourism activities such as hiking and canoeing,” Sauer concluded.

“Providing public access to the county’s eastern boundary waters of the Chowan River and Albemarle Sound has been one of our top priorities for several years,” remarked Wesson, who was Commissioners’ chairman at the time of the original decision to purchase the 137 acres back in Nov. 2015. “Developing paddle trails and access to natural resources is a growing trend in Bertie County as evidenced by the town of Windsor’s construction of multiple waterway access sites, and the construction of tree houses for camping along the Cashie River.”

“This was a team effort with the Board of Commissioners fully engaged from the outset and the Board set high expectations, and everyone performed in an exceptional manner,” said Wesson in November of 2015. His acknowledgement also gave special thanks to the county’s legal team of Lloyd Smith and Jonathan Huddleston, Finance Officer William Roberson, Planning Director Traci White, and project leadership from Economic Developer Steve Biggs.