Thursday, December 7, 2023

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Burlington agrees to buy Gibsonville land near Lake Mackintosh for $1.6 million

Burlington’s elected leaders have signed off on a pair of real estate deals that will accommodate the burgeoning collection of hiking trails that have sprung up on either side of its municipal limits.

During a regularly-scheduled meeting on Tuesday, Burlington’s city council approved one transaction with the town of Gibsonville that will enable Burlington to take ownership of an extant trail system along Lake Mackintosh in exchange for $1.6 million.

Meanwhile, the council also agreed to spend another $10,000 to acquire a small, privately-owned parcel next to the city’s East Waste Water Treatment Plant in order to link up two legs of another waterfront trail near Burlington’s border with the town of Haw River.

The council gave its blessing to both of these purchases after a 70-minute closed session that rounded out an otherwise open meeting on Tuesday night. (In addition to the two proposed land deals, this private huddle also touched on an unrelated lawsuit against the city’s police department).

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Before the council went behind closed doors, Burlington’s city attorney David Huffman provided some details about the proposed property purchases – as mandated under the relevant closed session provision in North Carolina’s Open Meetings Law.

According to Huffman, the first transaction to be considered involved about 160 acres that the town of Gibsonville owns along Wheeler Bridge Road in Guilford County. In particular, Huffman said that the council would home in on a 60.02-acre tract at 1690 Wheeler Bridge Road, a 69.65-acre tract at 1690-ZZ Wheeler Bridge Road, and 29.20 acres at 1736 Wheeler Bridge Road.

Huffman added that the stated purpose of these acquisitions would be to protect the Lake Mackintosh watershed and to allow the property’s “continued” use for “passive parks and recreation” – specifically, the “trails in [Burlington’s] Guilford-Mackintosh Park.”

The second prospective deal, according to Huffman, would concern .69 acres that Mona Elswick Cutler and Kathy Elswick Deitzler of West Virginia own off of Ruby Lane in Haw River.

The city attorney noted that this lot, which sits next the grounds of Burlington’s East Waste Water Treatment Plant, would both serve as a buffer for the facility and accommodate a leg of North Carolina’s Mountain-to-the-Sea Trail.

The council went on to approve both of these purchases by a margin of 5-to-0 after it emerged from its closed door discussion.

Tuesday’s closed session wasn’t the first time that the city’s leaders had contemplated acquiring additional property to expand the city’s network of hiking trails.

In fact, the city council paved the way for Tuesday’s transaction with Gibsonville in the fall of 2021 when it gave city staff members the go-ahead to apply for a federal grant that could’ve provided up to $500,000 toward the purchase price of the smaller community’s land holdings along Lake Mackintosh.

At the time, the council focused its attention on Gibsonville’s two larger parcels, which straddle the northern banks of Lake Mackintosh. Its members didn’t explicitly consider the 29-acre tract at 1736 Wheeler Bridge Road, which lies to the south of the lake. A city staff member nevertheless conceded that Gibsonville also wanted to unload that acreage and suggested that the city could split the cost of the property with Guilford County.

While the city awaited a response to its federal grant application, the city’s recreation and parks department began to develop some trails along the 131 acres that Gibsonville owned on the north shore of the lake. Those trails have since been functionally integrated into Burlington’s Guilford-Mackintosh Park, whose main entrance is located off of NC 61 in Whitsett.

In the wake of Tuesday’s decision to acquire this property, Burlington’s city manager Craig Honeycutt acknowledged that the city won’t be able to count on any federal assistance to defray the cost of this purchase.

“We applied for the grant and didn’t get it,” Honeycutt said in an interview Wednesday.

The city manager added that the council agreed to buy all 160 acres that the neighboring town had on offer because “Gibsonville was determined that, if they were to sell, they would sell all the property.”

As for Gibsonville’s plans from the $1.6 million proceeds from its land sale, Gibsonville town manager Ben Baxley told The Alamance News that he did not know if his board members have any concrete plans.

He did observe that the board has two pending capital projects that the mayor and board members have  frequently discussed: a freestanding police headquarters (which is now housed within town hall) and a new library building. Each would cost considerably more than the $1.6 million, Baxley noted, even though final cost estimates for either project have not been obtained.

As to the origins of how Gibsonville came to own the land, Baxley said the town’s records indicate that the acreage was given to the town in 1952 from Cone Mills, Inc. At the time, Cone was one of the town’s largest employers, operating Minneola Mills in Gibsonville’s downtown area.

The trails built by Burlington on parts of the Gibsonville property have been there for decades with the town’s permission, Baxley noted.

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