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Aldermen agree to purchase Spencer Woods

By Emily Ford
eford@salisburypost.com
SPENCER — Spencer aldermen agreed unanimously Tuesday to buy a 42-acre forest from the LandTrust for Central North Carolina and turn it into a passive recreation park.
The agreement is contingent upon an upcoming contract between the state and Spencer. Aldermen will have the chance to back out of the purchase if they don’t like the terms in the state contract.
The N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund recently awarded Spencer $200,000 to pay for the land along Rowan Avenue known as Spencer Woods.
“I hope that it is a no-brainer in your mind as it is in my mind to accept that land as it is, almost a free gift,” resident Bob Oswald told aldermen before they voted.
The LandTrust is purchasing the forest from Craft Development, a Charlotte-based real estate development company that had planned to clear-cut the land, for $645,000. The LandTrust will sell Spencer Woods to the town for $200,000, allowing the LandTrust to retire the debt.
Executive Director Jason Walser asked the town to vote on the purchase Tuesday, even though aldermen haven’t seen the state contract, because the LandTrust needs to close on the property with Craft Development in January and must complete an additional appraisal and environmental assessment.
“We would like to know if this partnership will happen,” Walser said.
Aldermen assured him they support the partnership and thanked Walser for his efforts. The LandTrust applied for the state grant on the town’s behalf.
Under Walser’s proposal, the town would own the park but contract with an independent charity to manage it. Cooleemee uses this model for an 82-acre park owned by the town but managed by RiverPark at Cooleemee Falls, a nonprofit organization.
Walser suggested the LandTrust should have at least one seat on the board of directors for Spencer Woods, with town aldermen appointing other members.
The LandTrust would provide seed funding for the park to cover day-to-day costs or park development. Walser said his group will provide $20,000 toward park management and would like to raise $50,000 in seed money to help pay for expenses the management group might incur, including legal fees, maintenance, signs and development of trails.
The LandTrust is committed to provide not only start-up funding for the initiative, but also staff and volunteer time to help oversee the property, Walser said.
“We are going to do whatever it takes to make this a signature project for Spencer,” he said.
In exchange, the town would provide basic safety services as it does for all town property and would pay property insurance on the park. Walser said the LandTrust would cover any insurance premium increases resulting from owning the park.
The town must develop at least some facilities at the park, which could include trails or parking, within five years of signing the grant agreement with the state.
Spencer could use the property only for educational and recreational purposes.
Several landscape architects will volunteer to study the project during a design workshop Jan. 19 and 20 and make suggestions. They will walk the property and meet with residents, as well as consider public input from a Nov. 10 community forum.
The results from the forum are scheduled to be posted on the town’s website later today. Go to http://ci.spencer.nc.us/ .


In other action
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, Spencer aldermen:
• Limited adult entertainment to no more than 10 percent of gross sales for any establishment.
• Agreed to pay $941 to replace the struts on a 2004 Dodge Intrepid police car. Tracy Aitken cast the lone dissenting vote, saying the expenditure didn’t make sense for a car worth about $1,200.
Police Chief Michael James said the Intrepid has been a terrible police car. The struts on another Intrepid failed during a 2006 pursuit, causing a Spencer officer to lose control and crash, James said.
The town has spent $5,500 on maintenance for the 2004 Intrepid, not counting oil changes.
He asked the board to consider buying a 2011 Crown Victoria for about $22,500, saying the car is more reliable. Ford is phasing out production of the Crown Vic, and the town may not have another chance to buy one, James said.
Used highway patrol vehicles are no longer a good option because patrolmen drive them to 130,000 miles, he said.
Alderman Jeff Morris made the motion to fix the struts and defer discussion of buying a new police car to the February board retreat, when newly elected aldermen can consider the issue. Morris said he didn’t consider the matter urgent and felt new struts will make the Intrepid safe for officers.
James said the department “desperately needs” a new vehicle. The board would have to dip into reserves to buy a car.
The department has 14 cars, including three Intrepids. Twelve full-time officers work for the town, as well as 18 reserve officers who serve at least 12 hours per month with no pay.
James also reported the department scored 96 percent on a recent firearms certification and plans to make several arrests in recent vehicle break-ins.
• Thanked Jeff Bumgarner, public works director, for his service as he departs for a new job in Illinois.
• Heard about two new businesses: a right-of-way clearing company coming to the old weigh station, and a new restaurant moving into the former Chicken and Oyster Shack.
• Agreed to close Fifth Street in front of the Lunch Box for a new free event, Sounds of the Season, from 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 10. Choirs will perform in the street.
• Heard the Spencer Civitan Club, Spencer Police and North Rowan schools will work together to find, repair and distribute 19 bicycles.
• Heard plans for holiday decorations and events from the Hometown Holidays Committee. Details are available at www.spencerhometownholidays.com .
• Approved a resolution opposing consolidation of prosecutorial and judicial districts presented by Rowan County District Attorney Brandy Cook.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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