Public input sought on waterfront property plan

Published 6:26 pm Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Washington City Council will host a public hearing Monday over a proposal to purchase the former Little Mint property on the south side of the Tar River west of U.S. Highway 17 Business. The property could become part of the Tar River Nature Park. (WDN Photo/Christ Prokos)

The public will have an opportunity Monday evening to weigh in on Washington’s proposal to acquire the former Little Mint property with grant funding.

A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday during the City Council’s meeting.

The city is seeking a $225,000 grant from the N.C. Public Beach and Waterfront Access Program, which is run by the N.C. Division of Coastal Management. If awarded the grant, the city would be required to provide $11,500 in cash and $11,500 in in-kind services if it accepts the grant, for a total of $247,500 to be spent to acquire the property, which is on the west side of U.S. Highway 17 Business and at the southern foot of the U.S. 17 Business bridge.

The city wants to acquire the property to increase public access for recreational purposes.

The property could be added to an adjacent property the city owns to become part of the proposed Tar River Nature Park, but during an August 2011 council meeting, the council indicated the project is not at the top of the city’s priorities.

Councilman Bobby Roberson discussed the proposal at that meeting, saying he wanted to discuss it as part of the city’s focus on eco-tourism and providing more public access to the Pamlico-Tar River.

There’s another reason to acquire the property, according to Roberson.

“The first thing we’re trying to do is improve the safety issue off of U.S. 17 — the people fishing. As you well know, we’ve had a couple of real, bad accidents over there. One of the things we’re trying to do is provide an alternate (place) for those individuals to fish. … The second thing is we’re trying to, once again, develop the long-range approach to eco-tourism development with the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation. We felt like we have an opportunity to actually get this parcel and tie it in to the wilderness park and have a great transition into that as well,” Roberson said in an interview Thursday.

“The public access is basically gone. We’ve lost a lot of public access. This is an opportunity for us to pick up and enhance another public access,” Roberson said in the interview. “We don’t have any more public beaches, and that’s another thing were looking at. I think this would enhance our capabilities to provide an additional public access to the Pamlico-Tar River area that actually falls inside the city’s jurisdiction.”

The park proposal is not a new proposal. It’s been seriously discussed, off and on, for at least five years.

In February 2009, the city turned down a $60,000 Clean Water Management Trust Fund grant to help pay for the proposed Tar River Nature Park, hoping to negotiate a better deal for the city. The city is considering building the park on land it owns adjacent to the former Little Mint property.

In early 2009, the council unanimously voted to decline a grant agreement that would have given the state a conservation easement on 220 of the acres that are part of the proposed 275-acre park. Council members said then they don’t want the 220 acres under such an easement because it would restrict what the city can do with the property.

A conservation easement is a voluntary, legally binding agreement. It limits and specifies types of uses for a piece of property or prevents development from taking place on a piece of property now and in the future in an effort to protect the property’s environmental or aesthetic values.

The grant was awarded to the city in November 2006, based on the condition the state receive the easement. The grant essentially would have reimbursed the city for spending about $60,000 on a 115-acre tract that’s part of the 275 acres. The McMullan property, previously given to the city, comprises 105 acres of the proposed park acreage.

Since February 2009, the city and state have ironed out their concerns regarding the easement, Roberson said.

At that August meeting, City Manager Josh Kay suggested the council consider including the project in the city’s capital-improvements plan, which prioritizes such projects. That plan, revised from time to time, also outlines the timeline for implementing a project and funding sources for the project. That plan, which has been under council review and revision in the past several weeks, could be approved Monday.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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