Three years ago, Mebane officials said they’d never consider taking legal action to forcibly take land for greenway trail; but now they might
The last surviving heirs to a sliver of property along Roosevelt Street in Mebane, on the outskirts of the city’s predominantly black West End community, may face condemnation proceedings since the city government of Mebane wants to construct a greenway trail across part of their property.
Three years ago, when Mebane officials began in earnest to discuss the possibility of a three-legged trail – between Mebane’s arts and community center (MACC), South Mebane Elementary School, and the city’s Holt Street Park – the issue first arose as to whether the city might have to obtain some of the property for such a trail through the use of “eminent domain,” in which the city would “take” the property by force in order to construct its trail.
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Mebane city officials said last month that they had been unsuccessful in their attempts to contact the owners of the property. The city says it sent three letters to the owners, seeking to purchase an easement on a portion of the property, between July 2020 and March of this year, based on documents that the city furnished in response to a public records request by The Alamance News.
Mebane city manager Chris Rollins recently confirmed for the newspaper that the city had not been able to contact the owners.
The property at 609 Roosevelt Street that the city hopes to acquire to build part of its “Holt Street Greenway” (at least that was its 2020 name) spans just under a quarter of an acre, according to Alamance County tax records, which list the latest assessed value at $8,436.
The city has extended an offer of $1,697.47 to purchase a 585-square-foot easement to build the greenway, based on documents that Rollins furnished in response to the newspaper’s request.
Documents furnished by the city, which are also on file with Alamance County’s Register of Deeds, identify the owners as: Robert Curry, Jr.; Billy Curry; Rochell Core; and Nettie Pauline Miles. Mebane officials sent the letters and subsequent offer to purchase the easement to Curry at his current mailing address in Westbury, New York, which is west of Long Island in Nassau County.
The heirs’ reaction: they want to build back on the homeplace
Reached at her home last Tuesday afternoon, Nettie Miles confirmed for an Alamance News reporter that she and her three siblings had inherited the property on Roosevelt Street from their mother, Katie Evans Curry.
Miles also confirmed that she and her brother, Robert, Jr. – whom she said lives with her at her home in Westbury, New York – are the last surviving children of Katie Evans Curry and Robert Clyde Curry, Sr. Miles said she and her brother hadn’t responded to the city’s offer for two reasons: “Other things have been popping up,” she said. Miles said she and her brother Robert aren’t particularly inclined to sell the property to the city because they want to build a replacement for a family home that had been there for decades until it burned down in the mid-2000s.
Miles grew up in Mebane but moved to New York, about a year after she graduated high school in 1955, she said in the interview. “I married a gentleman from up here,” Miles elaborated, referring to her now-deceased husband, Remus Miles. “When our children were small, we visited back home every year,” adding, “I travel back and forth visiting back home.”
“We want to have a place to stay [when we visit],” Miles said of her and her brother’s plans for the property at 609 Roosevelt Street. “It would be for my brother and me and future generations.”
The property along Roosevelt Street holds sentimental value for the siblings: Her father had purchased the land for $10 and had a four-room house built on it, Miles recalled in the interview. “I was in the eighth grade when we moved up on [the] West End.”
Miles also pointed out that she and her brother are current on the property taxes, which Alamance County tax department records confirmed.
The city is planning to build the Holt Street Greenway for bicycle and pedestrian recreation through a forested area between the Mebane Arts & Community Center that would connect with Holt Street Park.
The property along Roosevelt Street that Miles and her brother own would be used for the first phase of an “East-West Connector” for the greenway.
The family previously sold the city a permanent easement for an existing sewer line, which is maintained by the city, for $1,000 in February 2013, based on a deed of easement that was filed at the time with the county’s Register of Deeds and signed by Robert Curry, Jr.
Background: 3 years ago
During one discussion three years ago, staff initially raised the issue of whether using eminent domain, to forcibly acquire the land might ultimately become necessary, but councilmen were quick to insist that Mebane has not employed condemnation proceedings or eminent domain in the past, and they could not envision that they would do so in the future. That was during city council discussions in April and May 2018.
But earlier this year, three years later, as discussions deepen about starting to build the trail, and including money in the budget to pay for it, city manager Chris Rollins mentioned to council members last month the possibility that the city might have to institute “condemnation proceedings” against one recalcitrant property owner who had not granted the city’s request for an easement to build the trail over their property.
The route of the trail has also been abbreviated because of opposition from other property owners, as well.
The original concept was of a three-point trail, centered at the Mebane Arts and Community Center (MACC) running east to South Mebane Elementary School along South Third Street. At a midpoint of the east-west route, there would be a northern spur to the Holt Street Park. At least that was the conceptual plan at the outset.
But the northern leg of the trail is no longer a part of the plan – at least not for this year. Rollins said he is hopeful that property owners who have been reluctant to grant an easement along the northern route will be impressed with the results of the first segment – which he described as between the arts and community center and the elementary school – and want their acreage included after all.
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But, so far, Rollins told the council, property owners along what was to have been the northern route, or spur, “are not real thrilled about it,” he told the council during a March 23 meeting that focused primarily on the budget.
Actually, information provided in a subsequent response from the city’s attorney, Lawson Brown, makes it more clear just how unenthusiastic they are.
City attorney Lawson Brown elaborated in response to the newspaper’s subsequent public records request: there are eight properties along the northern greenway trail’s route, he said. Of those, one had agreed to grant the city an easement; the city received “a strong ‘no’ from two” of the property owners, according to Brown; and the city has had “no response from the others” –i.e., apparently five.
For the east-west segment, there are fewer property owners involved, and with the exception of the Curry heirs, they have been willing to sell an easement, or grant one without charge.
One local developer, Shawn Cummings, has agreed to give the city several parcels, not just the easements over the parcels but all of the properties, that total what Rollins described to his council as about 15 acres, cumulatively. The properties are owned by one of his companies, Agency Partners, LLC. The Alamance News was unable to reach Cummings after several attempts over the past week for additional comment about his donation of land toward the greenway trail.
Another property owner, Barrie Oblinger, and the Alamance-Burlington school system have agreed to provide the requested easements along their respective properties without any charge, according to attorney Brown.
South Mebane Elementary School has one of the longest trail-frontage parcels in the proposal, and city officials have previously said that the school will erect a fence along the edge of the trail to prevent anyone from going on school grounds.
One other property owner along the east-west corridor, John Harmon, has been paid $5,000 for the easement over his property, Brown reported in response to the newspaper’s public records request.
Heirs’ property is “essential” part of greenway project
City manager Rollins is insistent that the Curry property is an essential element in being able to build the first phase of the greenway trail between the MACC and South Mebane Elementary School.
He told the council in March that “one little easement on that owner’s property will [otherwise] hold up the whole project.”
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THE PROPOSED GREENWAY TRAIL, INCLUDING THE NORTHERN SPOKE; THE CURRY PROPERTY IS AT THE MID-POINT OF THE EAST-WEST SECTION OF THE TRAIL
Rollins went on to tell the council, “We’ve just reached the point where we have no alternative [but to institute condemnation proceedings].”
Asked about alternative routes that could go around the Curry property, Rollins responded, “We really can’t get one right there,” he said to the council.
In addition to being questioned by this newspaper’s publisher, who was present to cover the council meeting, councilman Tim Bradley recapped his understanding of the council’s previous guidance, “I thought [we were clear] we weren’t going to do any eminent domain, no condemnation.”
Rollins acknowledged, “That was clearly our plan, without a shadow of a doubt.”
But he went on to say that the inability to reach the Curry heirs, as well as them being the sole obstacle to proceeding, made him reach the point of saying condemnation of their property was the way to go.
“Yes, I think that’s going to be possible, it’s probably the only option,” he said in response to a question from the newspaper’s publisher during the meeting after Rollins raised the specter of condemnation proceedings.
The trail is in the 2021-2022 city budget
Construction of the Holt Street Greenway is estimated to cost $1.2 million, based on figures that then-city manager David Cheek cited for Mebane city councilmen during their budget deliberations in the spring of 2020. Impact Alamance, the charitable arm for Cone Health, had previously donated $250,000 to the city for the project; Cheek had suggested last spring that the council consider obtaining a bank loan to finance the remaining costs for construction.
The latest proposed budget for construction of the Holt Street Greenway, which was presented to the council late last month, totals about $900,000. The city is hoping to award contracts for construction by June or July of this year, based on the latest timeframes for the project that have been presented to the council.
Another cost that the city may incur from having the greenway trail is for security.
During the same March 23 budget meeting at which the greenway trail was discussed, Mebane police chief Terry Caldwell had earlier made a request for four additional patrol offices for his department.
Caldwell said that “Five-and-a-half miles of trails and greenways that we will also have to service” added to the necessity of having more police officers for the department.
See also the newspaper editorial opinion on whether the city should proceed with condemnation: Mebane faces a crossroads on what kind of city it
will be: charming, or a bully and overbearing tyrant https://alamancenews.com/mebane-faces-a-crossroads-on-what-kind-of-city-it-will-be-charming-or-a-bully-and-overbearing-tyrant/