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Waterfront lot purchase approved

JACKSON – The often-discussed Lake Gaston project will soon expand to encompass a waterfront lot after the Northampton County Commissioners approved spending $285,000 to purchase the parcel during their regular meeting here on Feb. 15.

The public hearing held Monday to consider this purchase was the latest step in the project that the commissioners set in motion over a year ago.

As previously reported by the News Herald, the Lake Gaston project is a part of the commissioners’ strategic plan for the county, specifically in regards to recreation and economic development. In Sept. 2019, the board approved the purchase of a six-acre parcel of land, located at 625 Edwards Beach Road in Henrico, for a total price of $300,000.

The goal will be to build a conference center on the site to provide access to county-sponsored recreation and wellness programs to citizens in the western end of the county. The building would also be able to house satellite offices for some county departments, including the health department, sheriff’s office, and department of social services. A conceptual design for the building, provided by Oakley Collier Architects, was unveiled at a meeting in Dec. 2020.

The additional purchase of the waterfront lot will add to the project by providing public access to the lake in Northampton County.

“This will give you an opportunity to go to Lake Gaston and remain on public property,” explained Board Chair Charles Tyner at Monday’s public hearing.

The waterfront lot is a half-acre parcel located just south of the six-acre plot of land that will serve as the site of the proposed building. A three-acre parcel that the county has the option to purchase is located between the two lots.

Grover L. Edwards and wife Lucy M. Edwards are listed as the sellers.

The cost is based on the current tax value of the land. Funds for the purchase will be drawn from the county’s general fund. Northampton County Attorney Scott McKellar said the county will pay $30,000 at closing, and then will pay $10,000 in quarterly installments over the next 6.25 years. There will be a final payment of $5,000.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Monday’s meeting was closed to in-person attendance from the public. Instead, people submitted their comments for the public hearing via emails which were given to the commissioners.

“We’ve read all the comments that were made. We appreciate those comments,” stated Tyner.

Tyner noted that most of the handful of comments were simply questions that county staff would answer. One comment was in opposition of the Lake Gaston project.

“We respect that,” he said. “We appreciate what you said about this project, but this board has determined early on that this will be a project that we will do on the western end of the county.”

“We decided the western end of the county deserves to have the same opportunities that everyone has in this county. They’re paying their fair share of county taxes,” he continued.

The other commissioners had no comment on the proposed purchase, though they encouraged citizens to keep sending in questions if they had more.

County Manager Charles Jackson said a “Q&A” on the Lake Gaston project will be released soon on the county’s website.

Commissioner Kelvin Edwards motioned to approve the purchase, and Commissioner Geneva Faulkner seconded. The vote passed unanimously.

A special meeting was held in late December last year for the board to address concerns and questions about the Lake Gaston project.

“In Northampton County, Lake Gaston is the most underutilized resource we have,” said Economic Development Director Franklin Williams at the December meeting, citing information he received from the NC Department of Commerce.

He said the project has the potential to bring in millions of dollars in tax revenue, though he did not provide any details on how those dollars would be generated.

Williams also said the county was searching for grants to help pay for the project, but he did not specify an estimated cost for the building or how much funding they were seeking.

Tyner emphasized in his own comments that the Lake Gaston project will not mean an increase in taxes for the citizens.

“We’re in the business of reducing taxes,” he said.