Edenton leaders recently voted to transfer three town-owned properties to Chowan County – including the town fire station – as part of the upcoming John A. Holmes High School construction project.
The properties, surrounding or a part of the high school campus footprint, includes the Edenton Fire Department as well as part of the rear high school parking lots and football stadium.
The transfer had been requested by Superintendent Dr. Michael Sasscer and Chowan County Manager Kevin Howard.
Edenton Town Manager Corey Gooden explained to the town council earlier in the month that the transfer would accomplish two goals: to give the county a clear title to the entire campus site for USDA loan documents and to clear up any potential encroachment conflicts between the high school and non-county-owned properties.
“It is rather surprising that the town still has these parcels given how long the high school has been there,” Gooden said.
Multiple discussions had taken place between Gooden, Howard and Sasscer, as well as town and county attorneys on how to proceed with the three parcels.
“What we have found for this [construction] project, is that the simplest process for us would be to deed these parcels over to the county,” Gooden said. “There will be a no-cost lease provided back to the town for the fire station.”
The initial lease term for the town to continue using the fire station is slated to be five years, with a five-year renewal clause.
Edenton Town Councilman Roger Coleman asked if there would be any legal or insurance problems if the property is deeded to the county. Gooden assured him there would not be.
“This [deed and lease] does allow us to clearly operate and it does allow us to maintain our insurance and shouldn’t change anything other than the name of who owns the property,” Gooden explained.
Edenton Mayor Jimmy Stallings asked if it would be feasible to not transfer the deed and keep the fire station.
“Things happen, boards change, town managers change, can we deed the rest of [the parcels] and keep the fire station?” Stallings asked.
Councilman Sambo Dixon asked why the county wanted the fire station.
Gooden said that for USDA loan requirements, Chowan County has to provide a clean title to the entire high school campus between Broad Street, Freemason Street, Oakum Street and Park Avenue.
The two rear parcels near the football stadium, acquired by the town in 1955 and 1990 respectively, would be in the immediate footprint of the project and are part of the main campus.
The fire department parcel, acquired by the town in 1967 to build the station, will see the greenspace behind the building utilized as the new home for Edenton’s Boy Scout Hut.
For the scout hut to remain on historic preservation lists, it must stay on the high school property. Given tight constraints on the campus, the greenspace behind the fire station is the only viable location for the hut – which is currently expected to feature a paved driveway around the cabin to accommodate for future events.
Councilman Aaron Coston asked if the fire station property could be partitioned, with the station being left in town hands for an auxiliary or event space and the greenspace being deeded to the county.
Gooden guessed that a delay with the parcel transfers, perhaps caused by a partition, could cost the project “months” of more waiting.
Stallings and Coston both agreed that the fire department building is a vital asset to the town, one that they would potentially like to keep for future use or assurance. Stallings did, however, note the importance of the deed transfer.
“It needs to happen,” Stallings said. “If there is some way, maybe we could have this in writing?”
Gooden said that future revisions or changes to the deed transfer could possibly contain a request in writing from the county for the properties.
The town is also accelerating the hunt for a property upon which to build a new fire station, Gooden noted.
“I think we would benefit [from transferring the current deed] by gaining a new town-owned fire station [in the future],” Gooden said. “In many ways we have outgrown that [old] location and we’re already looking to expand now.”
Gooden explained that he had spoken frequently with Edenton Fire Chief Billy Bass about the expansion and that it was needed – citing larger trucks and more equipment.
The original site eyed by the town for a new fire station was on Hicks Street, straddling a block to Peterson Street, only 800 feet from the current station. That property has since been purchased.
Gooden added that the hunt for a new site and construction of the station could be a collaborative effort with Chowan County, given that the county pays some capital outlay costs to the town for the fire service. He also said that town staff would like to keep the relocation as close to the original station as possible for insurance and metrics purposes and that funding has been set aside to begin the move.
“It makes me nervous when we go into business with somebody and they start choosing where things go,” Dixon said of potentially involving the county in the relocation. “I don’t want it to go out where our citizens don’t feel protected.”
Gooden said that the town would ultimately decide on where the station would be located, not the county.
“Corey says the fire station we have now, we have outgrown,” Councilman Elton Bond said. “We need more space, so what else can we do but move aside and build a new fire station? It wasn’t something that we were thinking about, but that’s the only option that we have.”
Councilman Hackney High asked to recuse himself from the deed transfer vote, given that he represents the school board as legal counsel and did not think it proper to vote to transfer town-owned property to Chowan County to ultimately benefit an entity which he represents. The council obliged his request.
Following a motion by Bond and second from Councilman Craig Miller, the council unanimously approved the start of the deed transfers, with High recused.