Town delays action on agreement with land trust

The Southern Pines Town Council was scheduled to approve a lease agreement with the Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust on Tuesday. The lease is for a portion of the old Southern Pines Primary School designated for the Blanchie Carter Discovery Park.

A purchase agreement was approved by the school board in October to sell the 17-acre surplus school property to the land trust.

The agreement calls for Southern Pines to pay a prepayment of $160,000 for a 99-year lease. The agreement calls for the land trust to maintain the property. If the land trust fails to maintain the property, the agreement gives the town the right to take over maintenance of the property and bill the land trust for the services plus a 10 percent administrative fee.

The town council was poised to act on this, but a lawsuit filed by BethAnn Pratte, a resident of Southern Pines, and James Moore, of Vass, has put a temporary hold on the matter. The Moore County School Board was scheduled to finalize the covenants and restrictions for the lease. However, the lawsuit was filed the afternoon of the school board meeting. Moore County School Superintendent Dr. Bob Grimesey recommended the board defer action until the school district’s legal counsel reviews the matter.

Later that day, the plaintiffs filed a restraining order to prevent the land trust and school board from closing on the property. The school board was not represented at the hearing, but Judge James Webb rejected their petition.

The plaintiffs are requesting that the sale but voided and the property sold through a competitive bidding process. Typically, school districts in North Carolina cannot sell assets to non-government organizations without a competitive bid process. However, in this case, the decision was made to sell it to the land trust for $685,000. The land trust stated purpose is to preserve the area’s cultural and historical value.

The lawsuit also includes allegations of the land trust manipulating the price by threatening to invoke a 1924 law restricting the area to “negro” education and disputes whether the envisioned partnership with non-profits, such as Habitat for Humanity, was unacceptable. According to a representative of the land trust, the lawsuit is frivolous, and the closing will be concluded by December 30.

The council postponed action until a later date.

In other meeting business, the council gave preliminary approval to an architectural plan for an 8209 square feet retail space at the corner of Murray Hill Road and US 15-501. A Chipotles Mexican Grill will anchor the new shopping area.

The Council also approved an architectural plan for a 221,000 square foot building for an open-air retail development in the Morgan Park South Development.

The Council also approved updating the Town Code of Ordinances to comply with State Senate Bill 300. The measure updates several aspects of how the state regulates police and criminal justice. The bill passed the Senate unanimously, but many critics maintain it does not sufficiently address transparency, police accountability, and racial equity issues.

During the public comment period, several residents thanked the Council for turning back an application for a 3-story mixed-use building that many felt was out of character for its proposed area. The application was withdrawn this afternoon before the meeting. Speaking to the matter, Southern Pines Mayor Carol Haney stated, “This is your town, and we listen to you. We (the Council) are responsible to the people of Southern Pines.”

The next meeting of the Southern Pines Town Council will be on November 22.

To read Sandhills Sentinel’s article on the sale of the old Southern Pines Primary School to the Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust, please click on link below.

Sandhills_Sentinel~Written by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter Chris Prentice. Contact him at [email protected].

Feature photo by Sandhills Sentinel Photographer John Patota.

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