The Chapel Hill Town Council voted 8-1 Monday to purchase of the 35-acre American Legion site for $7.9 million.
An initial payment of $3.6 million will come from the town’s fund balance, with funding for the remainder yet to be identified, Town Manager Roger Stancil said. The second and third payments would be due on the first and second anniversary of the sale, which is likely to be finalized in March.
American Legion Post 6 members must still approve the sale. They’ll vote on the plan next week. If the deal is finalized, the Legion will lease the site at 1714 Legion Road from Chapel Hill for three years while members seek a new location.
The vote comes just over a year after the previous council opted not to purchase the land. Woodfield Investments’ plan to build apartments and office space on the site met resistance from neighbors, who urged the council to instead buy the property for a park or other public space.
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That wasn’t possible at the time, council member Sally Greene said.
“This council is in a very different position now then we were last December when we had a very limited amount of time and no funds to make a decision like this,“ she said.
Stancil told the council the town’s financial picture has improved in the past 12 months.
“In 2016 you closed the the fiscal year with $3.6 million over your target fund balance, and the voters approved a bond referendum which includes $8 million dollars of authorized parks and recreation money,” said Stancil.
Residents living near the site thanked the council for reconsidering the purchase.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you for listening to the citizens of Chapel Hill who told you we wanted a much-needed community park on at least part of the land, instead of more luxury apartments,” said Diane Willis.
Part may be developed
While a park or other civic use was the focus of discussion among members of the public, the council approved a last-minute amendment indicating town planners will likely seek to offer part of the property for private development to offset the purchase price.
Council member George Cianciolo said it makes sense for the town to consider selling some land along Legion Road to raise money to cover future payments on the property.
“Some of us had some concerns about how we would pay for this,” said Cianciolo. “We want to make sure that it’s understood by the citizens that the likelihood that this could all be park is not very high, as that would require us to find another $4.3 million that we don’t know where it would come from.”
He noted to raise the additional money through property taxes would require a 6 cent per $100 increase on the town’s tax rate.
The amendment drew an objection from council member Nancy Oates. Though she said she favored the land acquisition, she said the clause calling for a mix of public and private uses on the site came as an unwelcome surprise.
“I didn’t think that we were voting tonight on how we would use it,” she told the council.
Oates cast the lone vote against authorizing the deal, though she joined the council in a unanimous vote to approve the budget ordinance to fund the purchase.
Town officials plan to launch a strategic planning process early next year to determine exactly how the property should be put to use.
In other business
The council authorized the town manager to enter into an interlocal agreement between the town of Chapel Hill and Orange County for the execution of the Rogers Road Neighborhood Sewer Project. The agreement sets the town’s and county’s contributions at 43 percent of the cost of the project with the town of Carrboro contributing 14 percent of the cost.