The Archer Lodge Town Council doesn’t yet know where it will build a park, but it likely won’t be on land owned by Councilman Carl Vinson.
Earlier this year, the council agreed to purchase 29 acres from Vinson on which to build a multi-use park. But soon afterward, the council tore up that deal after learning the agreement with Vinson likely ran afoul state law.
Last week, in a 3-1 vote, the council agreed to begin a new search for park land, with only Councilman Mark Jackson dissenting. And because it rescinded its earlier deal with Vinson, he will be able to take part in the search.
In June, the council settled on Vinson’s land and agreed to pay him $450,000. But under North Carolina law, a council can buy property from one of its own only if it condemns the land and allows a judge to determine a fair-market price. Archer Lodge didn’t take that route.
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“It was a good choice, in the right place for a price we didn’t think was inappropriate,” Mayor Mike Gordon said. “But we’re going to explore some other possibilities.”
Town Attorney Chip Hewett said the council was reluctant to pursue condemnation because that would have required upfront money. Archer Lodge hopes to use a state grant to help purchase the land, but it doesn’t have that money in hand.
“If we were going to go the condemnation route, we’d need money in the bank,” Hewett said, adding that the agreement with Vinson took the state grant into account. “If condemning the land, if you don’t get the grant, then where are you?”
Before the council approached him, Vinson said, he had no plans to sell his land, and he now has no plan to put it back on the market.
“The town approached me about the park and asked if I was interested,” Vinson said. “What I’ve said all along is that my interest has been in what’s best for Archer Lodge. ... I had no plans to sell before, and I have no plans at this point.”
Gordon said the council made its purchase offer to Vinson based on the price the Johnston County Board of Education paid for the Archer Lodge Middle School land a decade ago. Vinson’s land sits across from the middle school.
In making a deal with Vinson, council members said they never intended to run afoul of the law.
“There was never any attempt to do anything that represented any conflict of interest,” Vinson said. “Hey, we’re a young town, and we made a mistake. We rectified that mistake by nullifying the deal.”
“You live and learn,” Gordon said.
The mayor said the council would start searching anew for park land, though it could not rule out eventually returning to Vinson and his property. Archer Lodge hopes to build a park with baseball, T-ball and soccer fields, plus picnic shelters, walking trails and possibly disc golf.
“We’re trying to make sure we cover everyone,” Gordon said.
The land-deal misstep likely cost Archer Lodge a year in its parks pursuit, but the mayor said it was always a long-term plan, with full development possibly a decade away.
“It’s never quick enough,” Gordon said. “I hope that within a year or less we can find the right property and pursue the process again. A lot is related to dollars; it would probably have to be done in phases.”
919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdjackson