City swaps land

Published 10:46 pm Friday, April 18, 2014

After hearing concerns from three nearby residents, the City Council unanimously approved a land swap deal that will exchange city property for a building owned by the U.S. Army.

The city will give away 96 acres of vacant land at 886 Carolina Road in exchange for a 12-acre parcel on Bennett’s Creek Park Road.

The Army wants to expand from its 1LT Richard T. Shea U.S. Army Reserve Center on Bennett’s Creek Park Road. It plans to do so at the Carolina Road location, while the city intends to renovate the Bennett’s Creek location into a recreation center.

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The city initially planned to use the Carolina Road location as a utilities operations center but has since decided that putting utilities on the site would be too expensive.

But three nearby property owners expressed concerns about access to their properties, drainage on the site, noise and their own property values. They also said the city did not notify adjacent property owners about the public hearing.

Sandy Winslow, whose wife’s family owns a 6.6-acre tract in the middle of the city site, said during the public hearing the family had accepted a lower price for the land it sold to the city in exchange for improvements the city promised to make.

But the improvements, including turn lanes and storm water retention ponds, have not been installed.

The family also is concerned about access to the site.

“We’ll be basically landlocked,” Winslow said.”

But Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts said the city dedicated 20 feet as well as a 20-foot easement, “giving them effectively a 40-foot driveway.”

Erica Thomas, a nearby resident, said she was worried about sound and her property value.

“What upsets me is there seems to be no consideration for the residents,” she said.

Councilman Mike Duman, who used to drill at the Bennett’s Creek Park Road location during his service in the Reserves, said the functions of the unit are “very low-key.”

“It’s a training unit,” he said. “There are a bunch of chiefs, but no Indians. You won’t see tanks and trucks.”

He also noted that unlike a National Guard armory, the building is not used for social functions when not in use by the military.

Roberts and Mayor Linda T. Johnson said they’ve never heard a complaint from the elementary school or residential area near the current site on Bennett’s Creek Park Road. The distance between the facility and homes will be greater at the new site, Roberts said, and about half of the new site is forested wetlands, which creates a natural buffer.

Virginia Hope, another nearby resident, also had concerns about drainage.

“I don’t think the city has done its due diligence,” she said, adding that septic systems in the area already don’t work because ditches aren’t cleared.

Roberts noted the property is on the edge of the Great Dismal Swamp and said the Army’s improvements will reduce runoff from the site.

“They get to print money, so they won’t have any problem paying for the improvements,” Duman said.

Roberts also said the Army was under a time constraint, because “other agencies do want to use the money” if the Army didn’t use it.