West Rowan group offers $2 million for Kannapolis land
By Jessie Burchette
Two west Rowan residents who want to keep the area’s rural character and beauty intact have tentatively offered $2 million to preserve 500 acres along White Road.
The city of Kannapolis has accepted the offer from Johnny Moore and Tom Smith. Sally Graham Murphy was part of the partnership offering to buy the land but has dropped out, according to Moore.
“There’s a whole lot of us who want to see farmland preserved,” Moore said. “If the county isn’t going to do anything with land use, it’s kind of up to the people of the rural communities to protect the land.”
The deal isn’t final; the sale will have to go through the public upset-bid process.
But with restrictions on the property to prevent development, it’s not expected to draw many, if any additional bids.
The property is two remaining tracts of 2,843 acres originally purchased by Cannon Mills more than a half-century ago for a reservoir to provide water for the city.
In 2006, the LandTrust for Central North Carolina struck a deal with the city to buy the property, which was the largest undeveloped collection of land under single ownership in Rowan County.
The economic downturn and plunge of financial markets dried up money streams available to the LandTrust.
Over the past few months, the LandTrust has reached out to west Rowan farmers to buy the land, ensuring it won’t be developed.
Jason Walser, executive director of the LandTrust, said last week he is hopeful that a deal will be struck. Walser praised the city of Kannapolis for its interest in preserving the land and the west Rowan group for coming forward to buy it.
Walser said several groups of farmers are looking at buying the property. “Only one group has submitted an offer.”
The $2 million offer the city has accepted is only a fraction of the value with full development rights. A 2005 appraisal put the value at between $6,000 and $8,500 per acre with a total value of between $4 million and $7 million.
The city’s decision to take virtually all development rights from the property to preserve and protect the watershed significantly cuts the value of the property.
Moore, his wife Karen, and son Brian are the active farmers in the group that has stepped forward.
Moore has one of the largest farming operations in Rowan County and has won several awards, including state farmer of the year.
Moore can’t stand the idea of a residential subdivision plopped in the middle of the community. “Ride to Huntersville, anywhere outside Charlotte, see what is happening to good farmland. This could very well happen here.”
Moore said full-time farmers are stretching out, buying adjacent properties, doing what they can to preserve farmland. “My family is going to try.”
Smith, the former chairman and CEO of Food Lion, lives in west Rowan.
Murphy has worked to restore a historic family home ó Wood Grove ó in Mount Ulla and retains more than 100 acres of farmland.
Kannapolis City Manager Mike Legg said the pending sale to the farm group carries out the City Council’s desire to protect the watershed by preventing development.
Legg said the conservation easements will be similar to those on the property acquired by the LandTrust. “We’re still protecting our watershed on Second Creek. It’s good for all parties.”
When it became clear the LandTrust wasn’t going to have the money to complete the original deal, the city began looking at other options.
“It’s a deal everybody wants,” Legg said referring to the potential sale to the farm group.
Although the LandTrust won’t have ownership, Walser said the results will be much the same. “The watershed will be protected. Farmers will be protected.”
The LandTrust has $6.5 million invested in preserving the property, including $1 million borrowed. Walser hopes that when the economy improves, the state will go forward with plans to buy the 463-acre Tract 2 as planned.
The LandTrust has secured $1 million from the Doris Duke Foundation to buy the 708-acre Tract 5, the remaining piece of planned reservoir land. In a memo to City Council, Legg said that property has an appraised value of $4.2 million.
Legg noted the City Council’s vote on June 22 to accept the offer by the farm group doesn’t lock the city into selling the property. Any and all bids can be rejected.
If the sale goes through, money would put in the city’s fund balance.