Board suggests developing half-acre site

Published 1:27 pm Friday, March 9, 2007

By By MIKE VOSS, Contributing Editor
Sell the former Evans Seafood property so it can be developed commercially.
That’s the Washington Planning Board’s recommendation to the City Council, which will formally receive the board’s recommendation at the council’s meeting Monday at 4:30 p.m. The council has the final say on what happens with the property.
After listening to speakers debate what to do with the city-owned property for more than two hours Wednesday night, the board voted 3-2 to recommend the property, about a half acre, be sold for commercial development that would be the “highest and best use” of the property. The board’s recommendation included a provision calling for open space adjacent to the former Evans Seafood property to remain that way.
Board members Dot Moate, John Tate and Dan McNeil voted for the recommendation. Steve Moler and Marie Barber voted against it. Moler’s motion to recommend the city not sell former Evans Seafood property and keep it and the adjacent open space as open space forever was defeated.
Moate, Tate and McNeil said they believe a mixture of uses such as commercial development and open space, like a festival park, is a good fit for the land between the Estuarium and former Maola facility. McNeil said there is “enough area that we can do both of them.”
Moler is among those who believe a downtown hotel should go in an existing building that’s been renovated instead of a new structure. Barber preferred the board take more time to study the issue before making a recommendation to the council.
Most of the speakers at the board’s meeting opposed selling the former Evans Seafood property for commercial development. They prefer that it and the adjacent land be left as open space. Some speakers said they could support the land being used as a “festival park” that could include an amphitheater.
Don Stroud, a supporter of keeping the land as open space, said a petition drive has collected about 800 signatures of people who want the city to let the land remain “green space.” Stroud said a festival park, with facilities such as an amphitheater or gazebos that could be rented to people, could provide economic-development opportunities for the city.
Eric Green, a professor at East Carolina University who lives in Washington, suggested the board take its time discussing the issue. He prefers keeping the property as open space available to the public.
Other speakers said changing the waterfront’s aesthetics could harm efforts to attract people to the city.
As for a proposal to build a small, boutique hotel on the former Evans Seafood property, several speakers suggested such a hotel would be better suited to a different location. Renovating an existing downtown building so it would house a hotel was suggested by several speakers.
Some speakers said the city should sell the former Evans Seafood property for commercial development to help spur economic-development efforts taking place in the city. Some of those speakers said building a hotel on the property could be a way to attract more people to the city, especially its central business district. Other speakers said commercial development of the property could come in forms other than a hotel.
Some opponents said there’s been no information offered that shows a hotel at the former Evans Seafood property would be financially feasible. Several attempts to bring hotels to the downtown area, either by building a new hotel or renovating an existing building to house a hotel, have not succeeded.
Cam Padgett, speaking as a member of the Beaufort County Committee of 100, said the organization supports building a hotel on the former Evans Seafood property.
Padgett also said there’s no reason a festival park can’t coexist with a hotel on the former Evans Seafood property.
Buckman also said a hotel and open space can coexist on the land in question.
Patricia Rawls, whose father once owned the Evans Seafood business and property, said she sees a need for a mixture of commercial use and open space on the land. Rawls said that “business and public property must coexist” to provide the city the type of development it needs to prosper.
Rawls said there was a time when there was no “green space” along the waterfront, which used to be “solid buildings” from one end to the other.
The former Evans Seafood property, about a half acre, is part of a piece of land between the N.C. Estuarium and the former Maola facility on Water Street. The city owns the former Evans Seafood property and the adjacent land.
In 1999, the city paid $203,000 for the former Evans Seafood property, which was appraised at $380,000 at the time the city bought the land.
The city created an economic development/redevelopment capital reserve fund in January 1998. City officials said then the lone purpose of the fund was to pursue economic-development and redevelopment activities to promote jobs for Washington residents and Beaufort County residents. The fund was to be supplied with $50,000 a year from the city’s general fund for a period of no more than 10 years.
In May 1999, the City Council increased the economic development/redevelopment capital reserve fund so the city could buy the former Evans Seafood property.