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Chapel Hill Council Members Debate Parameters of American Legion Property Future

Chapel Hill Council Members Debate Parameters of American Legion Property Future

The Chapel Hill Town Council unanimously voted to provide funding for the purchase of the American Legion property on Legion Road for $7.9 million at its meeting Monday night.

The purchase is moving forward as the land has been a controversial topic throughout 2016 after a developer offered to purchase the property late last year. A previous version of the council passed on the town’s right of first refusal of the property because, Stancil said, the town just did not have the funding options at the time. Stancil pointed out that residents had approved millions of dollars in bond funding since that initial choice.

But as the funding was provided with unanimous support and many expressed their gratitude for the decision on Monday night and the behind-the-scenes work that led up to it, the topic still proved to be somewhat contentious.

Councilwoman Donna Bell said this was new territory from what she has seen during her time on the council to accommodate the desires of some residents to purchase the property.

“I’ve been on the council for, I think, seven years now,” Bell said Monday night. “And I have never seen this town scramble and make something happen this quickly that cost us this much money ever.”

Some residents had e-mailed the council criticizing the town for jumping through hoops to make this happen after it took years of planning to find funding to bring sewer lines to the Rogers Road neighborhood.

Stancil said in his presentation to the council that the master planning process to determine the future use of the property could begin once the sale was finalized.

“Obviously, there’s an assumption that the park would be expanded up to some portion of the property,” Stancil said. “It could also be used for other uses, including community civic space.

“And you’ve had a number of conversations and proposals about people who might want to partner with the town in developing the park.”

Stancil said it was also possible some of the cost of the property could be recovered by selling a portion of the land to a developer for commercial use, something councilwoman Jess Anderson said seemed like a logical choice.

“It makes sense to sell off the front to pay for the back,” Anderson said. “But I really want us to be thoughtful and deliberative about what we decide goes there. And I think there’s going to be more opportunity for us to work as a community and figuring out what that looks like.”

Councilman Michael Parker proposed an amendment to the resolution to ask that it be made clear that the council did not intend for the entire property to be used as a park and that the town would explore other options through the master planning process. Councilwoman Nancy Oates objected to the amendment because she said it should have been discussed before the council meeting.

“This kind of got put on us as a surprise,” Oates said, recounting that she had checked her e-mail Monday afternoon and seen nothing about an amended resolution. “I’m not comfortable with that. I’m not certain what you’re thinking of in that first paragraph. So I’m not sure that I want to say, ‘I’m affirming something that you believe but I don’t know what it is.’”

Councilwoman Maria Palmer supported Parker’s motion and said it was putting forward concerns some council members had expressed about the purchase of the property regarding the land’s future use.

“This is not a surprise,” Palmer countered. “This is putting into words something that was a concern expressed and discussed very thoroughly that, I think, has been verbalized by several members of the council.”

The motion ultimately passed 8-1 with Oates dissenting.

The contract will have to be finalized by the American Legion at its meeting later this month. If approved, the sale would close in early 2017.

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