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What you need to know before Wake County votes on Crooked Creek park land Monday night

The former Crooked Creak Golf Course near Fuquay-Varnia was purchased by Wake County to be developed into a park.
The former Crooked Creak Golf Course near Fuquay-Varnia was purchased by Wake County to be developed into a park.

The plan for a future park on the former Crooked Creek Golf Course is on the chopping block despite Wake County’s buying the property last year.

County leaders will consider selling the land during a meeting that begins at 5 p.m. Monday at the Wake County Justice Center, at 300 S. Salisbury St. in Raleigh. With pro-park folks expected to turn out in force, the meeting could be a long one.

With a board of all Democrats, the Wake County commissioners normally vote lock step. The $4 million purchase of the former golf course — 143 acres north of Fuquay-Varina and west of U.S. 401 — has been an exception.

What’s happening tonight

Commissioner Greg Ford, vice chairman of the board, will try to list the property as surplus and start the process of selling it.

The Wake County Public School System will get the first crack at buying the land, which is standard when the county sells property. The school system has already closed on about 20 acres next to the county-owned property. Having a park next to a future school is one of the benefits the park supporters have noted.

In a Facebook post, Ford said the current commissioners agree that the covenants, or restrictions, the Crooked Creek homeowners gave up when the property was sold to the county should return if it’s sold. But park supporters say they’ll believe it when they see. And it’s not mentioned in the meeting documents other than that county staff is to negotiate with potential buyers.

How it might go down

This proposal will likely be supported by board Chairwoman Jessica Holmes and Commissioner James West. They, along with Ford, were the three votes against purchasing the property last summer. Commissioners Matt Calabria and Sig Hutchinson, long-time supporters of the proposed park, will likely oppose selling it.

Ford has called selling the property a correction to “an unprecedented and controversial action.” Calabria and Hutchinson have said buying the property $45,000 below market value was an excellent deal to help bring a park into an area where there are no county parks currently.

That leaves both factions trying to win over new commissioners Vickie Adamson and Susan Evans. It’s just their second meeting as commissioners, and neither has said how she’ll vote.

But last year’s contentious primary might give people an idea.

Why this became an issue

The purchase of the former golf course pitted the proposed park against other county needs like education and affordable housing during last year’s elections.

Democrats did not gain full control of the board until 2014, and the primary saw the first real intra-party fight. The only Democrats who didn’t face challengers were Holmes and Ford. They were also the only two candidates that had voted against a county budget that didn’t give the school system everything it said it needed.

Some school supporters — including big-time Democratic donors Ann Campbell and Dean Debnam — felt slighted the county would spend $4 million to buy a park when the school system didn’t get its full request. Commissioners voted to increase school funding by $21 million over the previous year, but the amount fell short of the school system’s request of $45.2 million in additional money.

Campbell and Debnam, along with their respective spouses and political action committees, poured thousands into the campaigns of the four Democratic candidates challenging the pro-park commissioners. Debnam’s PAC went as far as sending out an election mailer saying the four incumbents wanted to “bail out a failing golf course.” The golf course closed in 2015.

Adamson and Evans unseated pro-park commissioners John Burns and Erv Portman. Both Burns and Portman have been vocal in their frustration with the commissioners possibly selling the property.

What about the other park?

Ford will also propose making the planned Southeast County Park “the first priority” of the just-approved $120 million parks bond.

The Southeast County Park is an undeveloped 300 acres between Garner and Fuquay-Varina that the county has purchased throughout the years. The planning process is already underway, with a community forum held last September.

The southeast park and the proposed park at Crooked Creek are about five miles apart.

Supporters of Crooked Creek say both parks will be needed in the rapidly growing southern area of the county. Opponents say it’s duplicating efforts when money and resources could be spent elsewhere.

Will this all end Monday?

Not a chance.

The attorney representing the Crooked Creek Community Association is threatening “widespread litigation” if Wake County sells the property. And the property is no stranger to lawsuits.

Homeowners in the Crooked Creek subdivision sued the owners of the golf course to keep it open in 2015 and they fought to stop homes from being built on the property.

If commissioners do vote to sell the land, any offers have to come back to the board for approval. Then the county has to see if any other offers come in higher to upset the purchase. If no upset bids come in, the county can vote to approve the sell. So that’s at least two more opportunities for Wake County commissioners to vote on the sale.

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Anna Johnson covers Raleigh and Wake County for the News & Observer. She has covered city government, crime and business for North Carolina newspapers since 2012. Reach her at 919-829-4807 or ajohnson@newsobserver.com.

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