By Jesse Wood
Watauga County is considering foreclosing on the old Boone Ready Mix property in the Town of Boone’s former extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) through a procedure based on delinquent property taxes.
This announcement was made at the end of the Watauga County Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, after several residents of the Seven Oaks neighborhood requested assistance from the county regarding this property.
This property, which is owned by Michael E. Perry, was previously a headache for the Town of Boone. But with the recent N.C. Supreme Court ruling upholding the abolishment of Boone’s ETJ, the property is now in Watauga County’s jurisdiction.
Seven Oaks residents – Nell Adams, Donna Akers, Doris Isaacs, Greg Mecomber and Lee Jackson – spoke before the commissioners about several factors related to this property: declining property values, environmental and safety hazards, criminal activity and more.
“Who wants to buy a home in a neighborhood blighted by an unsightly junkyard,” Adams said, while recounting a couple stories of prospective buyers turning right around after driving by the closed-down Boone Ready Mix plant on their way to her home.
Akers referenced criminal activity on the property, which was confirmed by the commissioners and law enforcement officials. In 2014, for example, the U.S. Marshals and the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office were involved in a two-hour standoff on the property to arrest a convicted felon, Frances Calhoun Yancey, for manufacturing, distributing and selling meth.
“I have two children 12 and 18, that even at that age, I don’t let them walk past that property when they walk our dog. I tell them to go the other way. I constantly see cars going in and out of there even late, late at night,” Akers said. “I read the police blotter now. I didn’t use to do that … I am not convinced they are not still doing some kind of drug trafficking there.”
Perry, who couldn’t be reached for comment, has an extensive rap sheet over the past decade. He is currently on probation and in a facility seeking treatment, according to a N.C. Department of Corrections official. Perry’s most recent charge was for possession of meth, according to court records.
“If you go to the sheriff’s office, they don’t have a folder, they have an entire file cabinet for the times they’ve been called out there to this Perry property,” Commissioner Perry Yates said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Something is going on out there, not only environmentally but evidently breaking the law if you have to have an entire file cabinet on one location. We really need to look at this hard.”
Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman declined to comment about this property, citing the involvement of state and federal authorities.
In 2012, the concrete plant lost its grandfathered status as a nonconforming business because town staff determined Boone Ready Mix was inactive for at least 180 days between 2010 and 2011. The Boone Board of Adjustment upheld that ruling in 2013. An attorney representing the lessee of the concrete plant called the decision a “tragedy,” one based on no evidence.
More recently, the Boone Town Council adopted an ordinance to proceed with legal action for 17 code violations on the Perry property last year. Violations identified, included “illegal use of certain structures as residences, illegal construction or installation of various structures, illegal demolition work and an illegal landfill.” Perry didn’t respond to the town’s notice of violation, so the town proceeded with legal action.
Watauga County Planning Director Joe Furman said that Boone obtained a court order on the property in November. The county has intervened in the order as the enforcement entity since Boone no longer has jurisdiction. Furman said the request will be heard in Superior Court on March 6.
“Until then, there’s not a lot for me to say, except this – the subject property does not meet the HILU Ordinance Category 1 spacing requirements,” Furman said in a email.
Since the ETJ was abolished, the commissioners have been revisiting some of its ordinances because residents of the former ETJ have requested more protections or regulations, depending on how you look at the situation. Currently, a moratorium is in place for high impact land use development as staff, the planning board and commissioners examine its ordinances.
Seven Oaks resident Doris Isaacs referenced that not much has changed since residents complained to the Town of Boone several years ago about the Perry property.
“After many, many discussions and some rulings by the Board of Adjustment and appeals and state rulings, finally a court order was issued for a larger cleanup of that property and shortly after that, the ETJ was taken away from the town,” Isaacs said. “So six years later, we find ourselves basically in the same situation dealing with soil erosion, illegal dumping, possible contamination of water and many other issues.”
Isaacs and some of the other speakers encouraged Watauga County to seek brownfields monies to clean up the old concrete plant. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfields Program provides grants and assistance to communities to cleanup properties that may contain “hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants.”
“Gentleman, this is not a political thing. This is a right and wrong thing,” Seven Oaks resident Lee Jackson told the commissioners. “We would like to see this property put back to its natural state … Watauga County has everything to gain and nothing to lose by moving in a positive direction.”
Jackson asked the board to foreclose on the property because of back taxes. According to the Watauga County Tax Administration department, Perry owes $12,797.93 in taxes going back as far as 2010 for personal and business property.
After listening to Seven Oaks residents during public comment, a few of the commissioners spoke up. Commissioner Jimmy Hodges said he encouraged the other commissioners to drive out to the property and have a look – if they hadn’t already.
“I also believe it would be more appropriate to have this discussion in closed session since it’s acquisition of property and county taxes,” Hodges said, asking for the issue to be put on the agenda in closed session.
Following the meeting, Chair John Welch said that the commissioners didn’t take any action during closed session.
“I think more will start coming out. As of right now, attorney/client matters,” Welch said. “We talked all about some of the implications of the ETJ coming into our hands.”
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