East Spencer to pay to clean up Dunbar site, seek recovery of cost

Published 12:10 am Saturday, March 18, 2023

EAST SPENCER — In January of 2015, the former Paul Laurence Dunbar Center on Long Street was severely damaged in a five-alarm fire, bringing to a close its long history of service to the community, both as several schools and a community center.

Since then, the property has sat empty, and the town and the owners, the Dunbar Development Company, LLC, have gone back and forth about the clean up of the property and its possible development. As recently as 2021, it was announced that the owners had partnered with Charlotte-based Diva Construction Company, LLC as co-developers on a development project. The Paul L. Dunbar Community Foundation, led by former town mayor Kenneth Foxx Muhammad El, was also involved.

But as time has passed, nothing has come to fruition, and the site has fallen more and more into disrepair.

The town has in the last several months sent notices of code violations to the owners, and during the recent planning retreat, the town’s Board of Aldermen authorized Town Manager Michael Douglas to spend $150,000 to have the property cleaned.

At a special meeting Thursday night, Douglas told board members he had received three bids for clearing the property, the lowest of which is just over $195,000. He asked, and the board agreed, that he be permitted to spend the extra money to get the site cleaned up once and for all.

“It’s been long enough, I think it’s time to clean it up,” said Alderman Curtis Cowan. Douglas said the low bid came from Dave’s Grading and Hauling in Salisbury, and the company could be ready to start work May 1.

And once done, the town will put a lien on the property that will have to be paid if the property is ever sold.

A local Realtor at Thursday’s meeting asked if a new buyer offered less than the lien amount, would they be responsible for the difference.

“They will not be able to sell it for less than the lien amount,” said Douglas. He said if a buyer agrees to pay the difference, that would be acceptable.

Currently state statute permits the town to place liens on properties when the town bears the financial burden of a clean-up, but just to make sure they have all their ducks in a row, in April the local board will adopt the same language in local ordinances that exist in the state statute. The N.C. general statute regarding the town’s ability to place a lien on properties that pose a risk and which owners have failed to act is under 160-D 1129, and will allow the town to sell and recoverable materials on the property, including metal, as well in order to try to recover some nominal costs.