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County may be asked to pay for food co-op land after backtracking on deed

In 2022, the city of Wilmington donated land worth $113,000 to the county for the construction of the Northside Food Co-op grocery store. However, the deed states that if the property is no longer used as a grocery store, the land will revert to city property.

Although the land has already been deeded, commissioners Dane Scalise and LeAnn Pierce, who were not on the board when the deal was made, took issue last week over investing $9 million in a new building on property the county does not own. The county is contributing $2.5 million supplemented by nearly $7 million from the New Hanover Community endowment.

Councilman Luke Waddell told Port City Daily on Tuesday that he was the one who put the idea on the table.

“My initial response to the [county’s] The request was, ‘Does the county anticipate paying fair market value for the property and what does that look like?'” Waddell said.

Northside Food Cooperative, established with bylaws and a board of directors in 2020, has been pushing for a grocery store in Northside, considered a food desert. Two years ago, the county dedicated $2.5 million to build a new building on the site, but by 2023, costs had risen to $7 million and the county said it would need grants to support the project. It got one this year when the New Hanover Community Endowment announced it would contribute $6.8 million to the project.

Pierce and Scalise suggested that it was not good business practice to make a large investment with the reversion clause in the deed. Their concerns increased after the board of directors was informed at its March 21 meeting about the company’s tight margins and initial losses.

At last week’s commissioner’s meeting, Pierce noted that while the city and county now have a good working relationship, that may not always be the case.

“Friends today, who knows what tomorrow,” he said.

She was the only commissioner to vote against signing the MOU, even after Commissioner Jonathan Barfield asked to amend the motion over Scalise’s suggestion to postpone the vote until April. Barfield suggested approving the MOU, contingent on county administration working out the details that the property would not return to the city if it were not a grocery store.

At the end of the meeting, Barfield turned to council members Clifford Barnett and David Joyner who were in the audience and asked, “Can you help us?”

Both council members said they were committed to finding a win-win solution and did not want to stand in the way of the hard work being done on the project.

“We will do whatever it takes to make sure Northside has a food court and we also want to protect the investment the city is making,” Barnett said. “So we are still working on the language. We will see what comes our way when we meet on Tuesday.”

Still, Joyner said he was taken aback by the county’s request.

“I’m amazed that this was executed in 2022 and now people are coming to the table saying it’s a surprise,” Joyner said.

Representing the commissioners, Coudriet will ask the city to remove the carryback clause at next week’s council meeting. Some council members are more open to that than others.

“Why would we?” said council member Kevin Spears.

He went on to compare the action to someone borrowing his bike and then never returning it.

“If the deal is about creating a grocery store, and our part of the deal was to donate the land and they would provide the funds for the grocery store, if it doesn’t become a grocery store, why would they keep our grocery store? groceries? “Land?” Spears said.

He was also less open to the idea of ​​the county purchasing the property, telling PCD he supports the original agreement and doesn’t want to make concessions.

“It just makes you think that maybe they don’t want to have a grocery store anymore,” Spears said. “Maybe they want some free land. And I don’t think the city of Wilmington is in a position to give away land.”

Councilman Charlie Rivenbark also didn’t like the idea of ​​honoring the county’s request.

“Now is not the time to remove the reversion clause once everything is done,” Rivenbark said.

To undo the current agreement, the county would have to deed the property to the city and undergo a rewrite without the reversion clause, then forward it to the county for approval.

Rivenbark told PCD that the clause should not have been there in the first place if the parties did not agree to it. He would also entertain the county to purchase the property, but said he would not elaborate on his opinion.

Before taking a certain stance, Waddell said he wanted to evaluate whether his fellow council members were in favor of purchasing property.

“If so, we get an appraisal, the county gets an appraisal and we meet in the middle, they buy the property and move forward with what I’m sure will be a great project,” Waddell said.

But what does the county think?

Commissioners Pierce, Scalise and Zapple did not rule out the land purchase request when contacted by Port City Daily.

“It’s a no-brainer, yeah, it makes sense to me for us to buy the property,” Pierce said.

Scalise and Zapple were a little more hesitant; the first said he didn’t know how to respond to the city’s purchase suggestion.

Zapple said he thought the county and city contributions to Northside Food Co-op seemed a little lopsided under the current agreement.

“We will be there for five years, but [if] After five years we won’t do it, what if they can’t make it? Zapple said. “Say, suddenly, a Food Lion and Harris Teeter move three blocks away. [away]. “A zillion things can happen.”

However, the commissioner admitted that he learned that a reversion clause is not unusual in land transfers. He compared their conditions to Habitat for Humanity projects, in that they remain affordable single-family homes in perpetuity unless the land is returned to the municipality that donated it.

“I’m open to any solution that is equitable,” Zapple said. “We’ll see.”

City Council will hear the county’s formal presentation on April 2.

“We are good partners with the city,” Scalise told PCD on Tuesday. “I imagine they would also want this cooperative grocery store to be in town and there is an easy way to do that.”

 

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