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Minutes reveal county’s offer of $2.3M for firing range land

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Henderson County’s new emergency services headquarters is up out of the ground at the old Balfour school property on Asheville Highway.
But could the location have been next to Bay Breeze seafood restaurant or at the current Board of Elections site off Spartanburg Highway?
Those options were on the table in December 2015 when the Board of Commissioners looked at potential sites for the $14 million complex for the emergency management, EMS, rescue squad and fire marshal, according to minutes the board voted recently to unseal.
Under state law, minutes of closed sessions may be withheld from the public “so long as public inspection would frustrate the purpose of a closed session.” The North Carolina Open Meetings Law requires that hearings, deliberations and actions of public bodies be conducted openly. The law permits nine exceptions where closed meetings are allowed, including attorney-client privilege, industry recruiting and buying real estate.
After Commissioner Bill Lapsley expressed the view that the Balfour site might not be the best location, commissioners authorized a study of other options. The Balfour site and Board of Elections property were both county-owned. County Engineer Marcus Jones, reporting on the study in a closed session on Dec. 7, 2015, said the elections board site was too small and had insufficient parking.
Besides the Bay Breeze property, consultant Steve Allen looked at the old Food Lion site, the Ingles-owned Sav-Mor property on Fleming Street, Goodwill property on Asheville Highway and Park Ridge Health-owned land (the old Four Seasons Cinema) on Seventh Avenue East. All four of the privately owned sites were unavailable.
County administrators and then-Emergency Services Director Rocky Hyder recommended the Balfour site. The board OK’d the former school property. Lapsley voted no, citing “the cost of $7.7 to $9.3 million for what people will see as a garage.”
Commissioners said at the time the county could get some cash down the road by selling the Asheville Highway frontage for commercial use. Nothing has been said publicly about that option since then.
Unsealed minutes also reveal that the Board of Commissioners offered to buy 551 acres on Pinnacle Mountain for $2.3 million for the firing range and training center Sheriff Charlie McDonald wanted. The Pinnacle Mountain land was the second site commissioners talked about buying; the board had rejected the old Camp Flintlock property in Green River and later rejected Blue Ridge Community College and Macedonia Road in Saluda before killing the idea altogether after McDonald’s primary election loss.
In a meeting on March 16, 2016, Jones, the county engineer, reported to the commissioners about the land, owned by Boyd L. “Bub” Hyder. The closest house was a mile away and closest church a half mile away. “We only need approximately 151 acres” at a projected price of $5,000 an acre, the minutes say. That would total $755,000.
Two months later, on May 18, 2016, Commissioner Charlie Messer reported in another closed meeting that Hyder had called him “and wants the county to make an offer on the property,” according to the minutes. “Mr. Hyder also has other property on Highway 25 we may be interested in.”
County Manager Steve Wyatt told commissioners the county’s real estate agent had made the offer of $2.3 million — the tax value of the land — to Hyder. “Mr. Hyder doesn’t seem to want to deal with the agent and did not give him an answer,” the minutes say. As a result, the board voted unanimously to drop the Pinnacle Mountain property. “The board will continue to look at options for an indoor facility possibly at Blue Ridge Community College.” Six months later, commissioners authorized a $20 million indoor firing range and training center on the BRCC campus, the project that it later dropped.
In two other closed meeting discussions:
• The board declined a request from GF Linamar LLC in February 2016 to lower the average factory wage it had committed to in exchange for $7 million in county property tax rebates. The company, which had agreed to an average wage of $47,738 during a public hearing on the tax incentives a month earlier, wanted to lower the annual wage target to $41,000. Andrew Tate, then president of the Partnership for Economic Development, and County Attorney Russ Burrell told commissioners the agreement “is still a good package and it is not uncommon for changes to be requested,” the minutes say. “However, they are both uncomfortable with the wage guarantee change and, given the company’s resistance to the previous guaranteed wage rate, wanted to bring the issue before the Board.” Burrell pointed out that the state Job Development Investment Grant gives that the company gets credit for a created job that meets 90 percent of its target wage, in this case $42,000. The board declined to lower the target wage.
• The board agreed in January 2017 to buy 1.3 acres at 1008 Fleming Street for parking for the new Hendersonville High School when city officials informed the county that more parking would be needed for zoning approval. The owner offered to give back $300,000 as a gift if the county paid the list price of $800,000. Commissioners were also told of five parcels across Bearcat Boulevard from the high school, valued at a total of $773,000. They did not act on those. Commissioner Edney told the board that Hendersonville City Councilman Jeff Miller had asked for "another meeting" with Lapsley, Edney and several HHS alumni. By consensus, commissioners said no, according to the minutes.