The Pocahontas County Commission will seek legal advice on the potential uses of a county-owned 30-acre parcel at the Green Bank Industrial Site, but commissioners remain undecided how they want the property to be used.
During the County Commission meeting on February 17, John Fitzgerald, of Cass, spoke to the Commission about the property. Fitzgerald and his business partner, Chris Giannini, previously requested to lease the property for growing hay. A stumbling block is a deed restriction, limiting the use of the land to “economic development” purposes.
The Board of Education acquired the land in the 1970s for construction of a high school, but later chose a different site for the school. The Board conveyed the property to the Commission for $1, with the condition that the property be used for economic development purposes.
Fitzgerald requested that the Commission work with the Board to remove the deed restriction.
“I came down tonight to ask the Commission to lift the stipulations on the Green Bank Industrial Park by going to the Pocahontas County Board of Education, which put the stipulations on there,” he said. “They were agreed upon with the County Commission at that time. They both agreed to put those on there, so I feel that the Commission could approach the Board of Education to have those lifted, and leave the stipulations up to the County Commission in the future.”
Fitzgerald proposed a lease that would allow agricultural use until the Commission locates a more commercial or industrial lessee. The businessman and farmer noted that another industrial site is available in the county.
“We’ve got to be realistic here,” he said. “We’ve got the site up at Edray. If anybody wants to come in, there’s an industrial park up there that costs the county a lot of money and is not being used at all.”
Commissioner Jamie Walker questioned the propriety of removing the deed restriction.
“When people set things up, I don’t think the intent of setting them up is to five years later change them and five years later change them again,” he said. “I don’t know what the reasoning was for it, but there is some reason that it was worded this way.”
Walker said the Commission needs to clarify the definition of “economic development.”
“The question that I feel is at stake here is still – what is economic development?” he said.
“To me, economic development is employees working under you,” Walker added.
Commissioner David McLaughlin said the county risked losing the property if it allows a use other than economic development.
“If we would do that, it would revert back to the Board of Education,” he said. “It says if it’s conveyed to private, non-commercials hands, the real estate will revert immediately to the grantor.”
Fitzgerald said the two parties to the deed can modify the deed clause.
“The Commission and the Board of Eduction agreed upon these stipulations,” he said. “They could also go back and lift those, if they both agreed upon it,” he said.
Commission Assistant Sue Helton recommended legal assistance.
“We need to get an attorney involved,” she said. “I know we went through this several years ago. My understanding was that it had to go through Circuit Court and had the restrictions removed.”
Commissioner Bill Beard agreed.
“We’re going to need to discuss this with an attorney to see what we can do with it and if we can do anything,” he said.
Fitzgerald noted that the property has sat vacant for decades and generated no revenue for the county.
“I think it’s time for somebody to either see what we can do about it and, if we can’t lift these deed restrictions, can we sell it or what can we do with it?” he said.
Commissioners took no action but stated their intent to seek legal advice on possible uses of the Green Bank property.
Mike Holstine and Ben Wilfong, representing the Pocahontas County Chamber of Commerce, requested that one or more commissioners serve on the Chamber’s board of directors.
“We agreed to formally invite one or many of the county commissioners to sit on the board of the Chamber of Commerce, so that you can hear the direction that the Chamber is thinking of going, to advise the board whether you think the direction is correct or not, and be part of the decision-making process that the Chamber is going through,” said Holstine.
Commissioner Jamie Walker said the three commissioners already serve on numerous boards, and suggested that they attend Chamber board meetings on a rotating basis.
“I think we have boards that we’re on pretty well divided up fairly equal,” he said. “I would be in favor – unless they’re looking for a permanent voting member – of just alternating going,” he said.
The Commission followed Walker’s suggestion and voted unanimously to have the three commissioners attend Chamber board meetings on an alternating basis as a non-voting member.
The Commission considered a request by 911 Director Shawn Dunbrack to transfer $1,000 from a utility line item to an overtime pay line item.
“It’s always been our policy that we don’t do budget revisions for personnel line items,” said Helton. “If you want to do that, that’s fine, but I just wanted to point that out,” she said.
The Commission took no action on the budget revision.
In other business, the Commission heard an update from Day Report Center Director Tammie Alderman and scheduled budget work sessions at 9 a.m. on March 9, 11 and 13.
The next County Commission meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 3 at 8:30 a.m. An agenda will be posted on pocahontascountycommission.com.