City looking to buy site for $300,000

Mount Airy officials are proposing to spend $300,000 on a property near the intersection of Franklin and Willow streets, pictured at left.

Mount Airy officials are proposing to spend $300,000 on a property on Franklin Street — not the site of the recently razed former Koozies building, as one might think because of the timing involved, but elsewhere on that road.

The location involved was identified Wednesday as 314 Franklin St., which is owned by Robert Kent Slate and his wife, Myra Garrett Slate.

This property, which now contains a house, is located near the intersection of Franklin and Willow streets, adjacent to the former Spencer Textile Mill property owned and gradually redeveloped by the city government. This effort recently included plans for a Marriott hotel.

It was its proximity to the Spencer redevelopment area that drew the attention of Mount Airy officials to the property of 314 Franklin St.

They say that if acquired following an upcoming public hearing on the proposed purchase, it would be used for economic development and parking – which council members say would fill a great need in this regard.

“I think this is a great first step to help create additional parking downtown,” Mayor Ron Niland said at a Mount Airy Board of Commissioners meeting last week.

The move is seen as helping to boost and stabilize the existing development project while increasing business prospects in the city, contributing to the creation of new jobs and providing public benefits.

At last week’s meeting, council voted unanimously to schedule a public hearing required for the expenditure of public funds for the economic development project. It will be conducted next Thursday at a 6 p.m. meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners, where citizens are invited to have their say on the matter.

The money for the purchase of the property is believed to come from a $2 million allocation announced by the state in July to help Mount Airy continue the redevelopment of Spencer’s former textile property – mostly targeting exterior improvements instead than building-related uses.

“The acquisition of this Franklin Street property will be paid for out of that $2 million,” Commissioner Steve Yokeley said at last week’s meeting, as opposed to municipal funds.

Site details initially retained

Officials did not specify the address of the targeted property before, during or immediately after last week’s meeting.

“All of this will be disclosed at the public hearing,” said City Attorney Hugh Campbell, who was asked questions about the matter.

Discussing whether not identifying the site defeats the purpose of the public hearing – with citizens invited to come to a meeting and comment on a proposal without really knowing what this was beforehand, Campbell first defended this position.

“Just because it’s a property acquisition,” the city attorney explained.

Ownership negotiations can be kept private at first, but it’s unusual for location information to be confidential once a case reaches the public hearing stage.

That was the opinion this week from attorney Amanda Martin of the Raleigh Stevens law firm Martin Vaughn and Tadych, PLLC. Its services include working on behalf of the North Carolina Press Association and operating a related legal hotline.

“I think there’s no reason to withhold information,” advised Martin, who acts as legal counsel to traditional and social media, strategic and corporate communicators.

Saying she doesn’t believe Mount Airy’s position is supported by public records law, Martin cited a court ruling involving a news organization called Boney Publishers Inc. and the city of Burlington centered on those records. .

This was a case decided by the North Carolina Court of Appeals in 2004. Martin said that on this basis, unless the location of the property is among the issues to be negotiated, “c It is a matter of public record that must be disclosed at a public meeting.”

Martin added that it is one thing to withhold certain information about economic development incentives, such as giving tax breaks to companies agreeing to create jobs, versus buying property for the purpose. to contribute to economic development.

“Like buying land downtown and building a parking lot there,” the lawyer said by way of example. “I think (this) is not entitled to any derogation from the Public Records Act”, due to the latter’s distinction from an inciting situation.

Campbell, the city attorney, agreed after further consideration of the matter, which led to the release of the property’s address early Wednesday evening.

“I am aware of the Boney case and recognize the public purpose of promoting transparency in the day-to-day operations of public bodies and the political consideration of disclosure and transparency,” he wrote in an email.

“I went back and looked into the case…and I should recognize my error in judgement,” Campbell added. “I really thought that the identification of lands targeted for economic development was confidential until the public hearing, but I was beside the point.”

Meanwhile, the former Koozies property — at 455 Franklin St. some distance from 314 — is now an empty lot after the dilapidated building was recently demolished, with no new uses announced so far.

Tom Joyce can be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.