Town officials now hope to negotiate a sales price and buy the former Colonial Inn from its owners, but some are frustrated by the delay.
Dialogue with a new representative for owner Francis Henry has put off town plans to file eminent domain proceedings in Orange County Superior Court.
In October, the town board had voted unanimously to send Henry a letter of intent, the first step in a public taking of the 153 W. King St. property. Henry would then have 30 days to respond.
Thirty days came and went.
In December, Town Manager Eric Peterson said the town has four months (120 days) after filing for eminent domain, barring an injunction, to offer fair market value for the property.
But nothing has happened.
“I thought it would be 30 days from the ‘letter of intent,’ and then file and then there would be 120 days,” said Town Commissioner Evelyn Lloyd.
“It goes on and on and on … and we have investors that are interested in partnering with us,” she said. “But we can’t wait until the building goes further into decay.”
At the Feb. 8 town board meeting, the Development Finance Initiative of the UNC School of Government offered to assist with redeveloping the inn.
The board decided to not accept DFI’s proposal at that time, but to solicit other proposals until March 31.
Mayor Town Steven said the town needs to appraise the property which, after a meeting with Henry and power of attorney Dale Helsabeck, is now set for mid-March.
After the appraisal, the town hopes to negotiate a sales price, he said.
“A private sale would be financially better for everyone, but the lawyers,” Stevens said.
The change in the town’s strategy seems to hinge on Henry’s semi-new power of attorney.
“There is a new voice speaking for the owner of the Colonial Inn,” Hornik said of Hesalbeck.
“I think the town would like to avoid litigation if they can,” Hornik said. “It is worth waiting a little bit on the owners.”
“But,” he added, “The critical piece of information we are waiting on now is – what is the fair market value?”
According to Chapel Hill attorney Isaac Thorp, only the N.C. Department of Transportation may enter private property before an eminent domain suit has been filed.
Before August 15, 2006, municipal condemnors had similar strength, but now they are authorized to “enter upon any lands, but not structures to make surveys, appraisals etc.”
In other words, they cannot enter the building without the owner’s consent.
“We have done this dance before in the 12-year history of the Colonial Inn situation,” said former town board member Eric Hallman. “These are delaying tactics … We got it to the second yard line, and there it sits.”
In the meantime, construction on a new roof the inn’s owners have said they are planning has yet to commence.
“I keep checking,” Lloyd said. “On my way to work, during the day and one the way home … I look out for it.
“They are not working on the roof.”
The town of Hillsborough is accepting proposals through March 31 from firms or individuals to provide pre-development assistance to the town and to assist in attracting private investment in the property at 153 W. King St. (the former Colonial Inn). Proposals should include what services are offered; experience of the individual, team or firm with similar projects; an approximate schedule; and the anticipated fee. Email to Margaret.firstname.lastname@example.org