By Jesse Wood
April 2, 2013. On Tuesday morning, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed to purchase 199 acres off of N.C. 194 from Deborah Earp Greene for the purpose of building a Class A Commerce Park. (Note that this is not the Deborah Greene who ran for school board.)
The property, bordering the highway and Meat Camp Creek, is located three miles outside of Boone past Castle Ford Road heading out of town, and overlooks the hairpin turn heading towards Green Valley Elementary School.
The purchase price is $1.7 million, which was negotiated down from the asking price of $3 million, according to Chair Nathan Miller, who added that the property was on the market for a “long time” and initially was offered at “millions and millions of dollars, which the county declined.”
The contract includes a five-month due diligence period, whereby the county can back out of the contract at anytime.
A second business park in Watauga has been a priority of the Economic Development Commission for years, as the current one located off of U.S. 421 has been filled to capacity for decades, something members of the commission have pointed out in the past when describing local businesses moving off the mountain.
Miller added that the EDC presented the commissioners with another piece of property to consider that was located out on U.S. 421 near Deep Gap, a property that he said was more desirable, however much more expensive.
“I was encouraged that we were able to negotiate the terms that we have negotiated. I think this is a wise investment for the county. We always talk about jobs, the problem here is that we don’t have the land or the space to encourage businesses that would employ [a large number] of people,” Miller said. “Hopefully, this would be able to do that.”
Commissioner David Blust asked about an appraisal on the property. Miller said an in-house historical appraisal from 2009 appraised the property at $1.9 million.
“It’s less than $8,800 per acre. Show me in Watauga County,” Miller said, before Blust interjected that the price was “fantastic” for the amount of acreage and being only a few miles outside of town.
Commissioner Perry Yates said the commissioners needed to look at the long term for employment in Watauga and said this might not go through fruition until five, 10, 15 years down the road.
He also noted that real estate values would only increase in the future. He added that if the county found anything wrong with the property during the due diligence period, it could always back out of the contract.
“I don’t think it ever hurts to look at a situation that creates jobs,” Yates said.
Commissioner Billy Kennedy echoed the due diligence sentiment that Yates mentioned but also said that the commissioners need to make sure this purchase wouldn’t cause needy folks to be neglected.
“I want to make sure this doesn’t take money for very needed services for the people in Watauga County, especially those most needy who really need those services and can’t take care of themselves without it,” Kennedy said. “It’s a great deal for a long-term project … I think we do need to look at it seriously as an opportunity, but we just need to make sure that this doesn’t take away from essential county services that our residents need and depend on.”
Commissioner John Welch added that he’s been going “back and forth” on this.
“Obviously, we need to bring jobs here and look down the road, and this would probably give us an opportunity to look at issues of Green Valley School with a lack of expansion options,” Welch said. “This is a big chunk of change. Like Billy said, we have people hurting in the county immediately. This is more of a long-range deal. We have some issues with capital within our county that needs to be addressed.”
Welch added, “This has weighed on me quite a bit.”
Yates reiterated the “look down the road” approach.
“When you look back at the water situation, the lack of planning and see that sometimes we do studies and don’t follow through on them, this is just like another study, we’ve got to entertain and look at the [negotiated] price,” Yates said. “I don’t think you’ll find any property sold at that price in Watauga County.”
Yates was referring to the market analysis InSite Consulting performed for the EDC. This study was a topic of discussion whenever the board of commissioners discussed a proposal from the EDC last fall to use the old Watauga High School site for a business park.
Money for the purchase will come from the unrestricted fund balance, and Miller and Kennedy both added that Watauga County and the EDC have been setting aside money for years for a project like this.
The EDC has roughly $432,000 in the bank, according to County Finance Director Margaret Pierce.
“Now we’re finally thinking about pulling the trigger,” Miller said.
View contract here: Greene Property Purchase Agreement.