County votes to take on donated property

Published 8:10 pm Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Beaufort County continues to look at taking ownership of a piece of property that could be a recreational and economic boost to northeastern Beaufort County.

The property is a donation of a 32.27-acre site located in Belhaven, fronting Pantego Creek adjacent to the N.C. Highway 99 bridge. The Town of Belhaven and county staff are discussing a partnership to turn the land into a mixed-use site, combining recreational use and business entities.

According to Beaufort County Planning Director Seth Laughlin, discussion with the town includes finding ways to give residents and visitors more access to the waterfront, perhaps with boardwalks over the wetlands and the addition of a boat ramp through partnership with N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission.

Martyn Johnson, Beaufort County economic director, said in the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners regular meeting Sept. 10, that the property is ideal for economic use, especially those businesses related to the boating industry.

Johnson told commissioners the reasons why the county should make an investment in the property is because it would create jobs, have a multiplier effect on existing Belhaven businesses through the creation of those jobs and increase the town’s tax base — all of which would “spur confidence in the Belhaven economy.”

It would be an investment, although a relatively small one at $38,533. Because of past use, the property will likely qualify for direct funding from the EPA through the Brownfields program, through which funds are provided to eligible entities for sites contaminated by petroleum and hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants.

Commissioner Robert Belcher, who was originally against to taking on the land when the prospect was brought up earlier in the year, said he’s changed his mind about county ownership because of the potential for new jobs.

“I think we need to try do as much economically for Belhaven as possible,” Belcher said.

Commissioners voted 7-0 to take the property on, with the condition that the Brownfields Program funding be assured before ownership is transferred from Greenville-based Front Porch Acquisitions LLC to the county. Recently, county commissioners made the decision to withdraw from another land transaction, that of taking possession of the VOA property in Northwestern Beaufort County from the federal government at no cost. The cost of upkeep on the property prompted commissioners to pass the 2,000-plus-acre tract on to N.C. Wildlife Resources.