Wake County commissioners decided Monday that the Town of Morrisville should pay back at least part of a $436,000 grant it received from the county.
Morrisville received the RTP Open Space Grant in 2007 after promising to use the money to buy land that would be preserved for nature. The town bought 25 acres at the corner of Church Street and McCrimmon Parkway.
At the time, seven acres were designated as recreational space, and 18 acres were designated as open space.
But earlier this summer, Morrisville built Church Street Park on the land. It includes tennis courts and the Triangle’s only regulation-size cricket pitch. Most of the park is open, but the cricket pitch won’t be ready for several more months.
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In addition to the seven acres of recreational space, the park’s size required the town to develop an additional seven of the 18 acres that had been set aside as non-recreational open space.
That led county staff to suggest asking for the grant back, during a work session Monday. But eventually, the county commissioners agreed to ask only for a pro-rated portion of the grant to be returned.
“I don’t see why we would take back the entire grant if there’s still 11 acres of woodlands on this property,” county commissioner John Burns said.
The commissioners didn’t immediately settle on an amount to ask for. They will likely vote later this month, officials said.
Morrisville Mayor Mark Stohlman said he understands the decision, and that town officials have expected this moment for years.
“We had always sort of anticipated, as we tweaked the design over the years for that park, that there would be some sort of reduction to the grant’s amount,” he said.
Jerry Allen, the town’s director of parks and recreation, said they had anticipated being able to buy another nearby property, but that deal fell through, so they had to use the protected space to make the park a reality.
Stohlman said Morrisville officials expect the county commissioners to vote later this month on how much to ask Morrisville to return.
He said the park came in under budget, so those savings could minimize the effect of paying back part of the grant, if not offset it completely, depending on how much the county asks to be returned.
Church Street Park used 38.8 percent of the land that had been set aside – 7.048 of the 18.17 acres, according to county records.
Allen said he expects the county will ask for $169,152, or 38.8 percent of the $436,080 grant. The figure comes from a dollars-to-acres formula.
Commissioner Matt Calabria said during Monday’s county meeting it’s a tough balancing act in deciding exactly how much to ask for.
“I think all of us are feeling this tension of not wanting to be punitive, but not wanting to be taken for granted,” he said.
Tony Chiotakis, Morrisville assistant town manager, said the town didn’t intend to trick the county. Much of the land within town limits already has been developed, and because Morrisville is wedged between Raleigh, Durham and Cary, there is little unincorporated land nearby to annex.
“We’re limited in the amount of land that we can go out and get (for) additional recreation space,” Chiotakis told the county commissioners.
James West, chairman of the county commissioners, said future grant agreements need to be backed up with better contracts – both to help the county protect its investments and to give recipients a more clear idea of what is or isn’t acceptable.
“We can surely learn something from this,” he said.
Staff writer Paul A. Specht contributed.
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran