NCCU plans raise real estate issues

Property owners worry that the university might not pay them enough

Staff WriterApril 24, 2008 

  • The plan approved Wednesday is driven by enrollment growth, a lack of parking and bed spaces, and the need for several new academic facilities. It has been controversial within the community, where some residents say university leaders didn't adequately consider alternate sites for growth that would have had less of an effect on residents.

    Included are:

    * Four new parking decks.

    * A new student union and the demolition of the current facility.

    * A new library and the renovation of the current library.

    * Several new commons areas aimed at encouraging students to gather.

    * A new convocation center on Fayetteville Street.

    Eventually, NCCU's football stadium and other athletic facilities are likely to be moved off campus. NCCU needs a bigger football stadium, and enlarging the existing facility would be difficult, planners say.

— In approving a new master plan Wednesday, N.C. Central University trustees might have eliminated any leverage local property owners had to get the best price for their homes, real estate experts say.

The plan targets about 140 properties just north and south of campus. Many are owned by retirees in old neighborhoods of small, modest homes paid off long ago. While the state offers "fair market value," that won't be enough in many cases, said Preston Edwards, a real estate broker and president of the Durham Regional Association of Realtors.

"There are a lot of elderly folks with homes paid for outright, so fair market value wouldn't allow them to buy a new house with cash," Edwards said. "With them on fixed incomes, [their chances of] being able to pay a mortgage is probably slim and none, and slim probably just walked out the door."

NCCU needs the land for dorms, academic buildings and other facilities to absorb an expected surge in enrollment. Some residents are eager to sell. Others would rather not move; they worry about their future.

NCCU has effectively become the sole buyer of the properties because, as a state agency, it can use condemnation powers to take them if an owner doesn't want to sell, said Dave Hartzell, a real estate professor with UNC-Chapel Hill's Kenan-Flagler Business School. That would scare away any competition, Hartzell said.

"It obviously limits the [value] into the future because you know that at some point they're going to take it over," he said.

The State Property Office handles such business for all state agencies. Though the state has the power to condemn land that is critical to the growth of a public agency, it does so rarely and judiciously, said Tim Walton, general real estate manager for the State Property Office.

"The goal is certainly not to condemn property unless whatever the [university] needs has to be in that spot," Walton said. "Condemnation is the absolute, last resort."

The last time the state condemned property for a university was about a decade ago when UNC-Greensboro needed to grow, Walton said.

Derrick Flowers, who lives with his grandfather, Vader Johnson, on Cecil Street near campus, worries that his family won't get the money it would need to move to a comparable home elsewhere. Flowers' family has owned the home for decades, and he figures he'd need at least $175,000 to find something suitable. But the home is assessed at $80,422 -- according to county tax records.

"That's not going to be enough for me to go buy a house of this size," said Flowers, whose Cecil Street home is about 1,450 square feet and has a basement. "You're forced to accept whatever they give. You can't put a price on sentimental value."

To determine fair market value, each property will be appraised. The sale prices and values of comparable properties play a larger role than the tax value does, Walton said.

The state helps sellers find new homes, pays moving costs and sometimes offers financial assistance if the new home is more expensive than the old one, Walton said.

Twenty citizens commented on the plan Wednesday, after which NCCU trustees approved it unanimously and with no discussion. Some neighbors said the plan would leave elderly residents with limited options while destroying a historic district. But several others said they want to sell; doing so, said one woman, is the ultimate sacrifice for the institution she loves.

"I am so pleased that we continue to make progress," said Vivian Patterson, who has lived near campus since 1959 and has two NCCU degrees. "I am saying we are willing to sacrifice. I will do all I can to help anybody who feels put out by having to move."

eric.ferreri@newsobserver.com or (919) 956-2415

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