Owners of a condemned historic hotel in downtown Walnut Cove have offered to give the property to the town, but officials could not agree Tuesday night whether to accept it.
The town commissioners engaged in a lengthy and sometimes heated debate Tuesday about the future of the historic Dodson Hotel site, with Town Commissioner Sharon Conaway urging them to get more information on the property before agreeing to accept ownership. In the end, the board agreed to table the proposal until more information could be gathered.
Owners Marianne and Robert Northington have offered to “donate” the property at the corner of Second and Main streets to the town of Walnut Cove, Town Manager Byron Ellis reported to the board. They have delivered an executed warranty deed granting the property to the town.
“Nothing’s gonna be free, though,” Mayor Lynn Lewis noted. “We will have to tear it down.”
If the board accepts the property, it will be responsible for seeing to the demolition of the old hotel sitting there. The demolition bids ranged from $21,500 to $54,000 for the three-story structure.
But Lewis later pointed out: “They’re making a lot of things, but land ain’t one of them.”
Conaway first asked what would be the intended use for the site, which she thought they needed to understand before using taxpayer money to take over the demolition cost. She noted that it had been suggested in the past as a potential site for a town hall, but she did not think it was the appropriate size. She said that on old town maps, High Street officially runs all the way through the back of the property and adjoining property, though the modern day road in usage ends at Second Street. Officially closing that paper road could lead the town to lose some property along the right-of-way, she said, but other town officials were not sure that continuation of the road shows up on the official county maps or that the loss of several feet would make a big difference.
But Conaway’s main concern was that she thinks the soil should be tested at the site since nearby properties have had contamination in the past. Conaway came prepared with a document she found that had been filed with the register of deeds in 2008 for the nearby Walnut Cove Shell site. The document provided by Conaway stated that residual petroleum remained on the site but was not a danger to public health as long as certain restrictions were followed, though she could not spell out the extent of those restrictions.
Closer reading of the document shows a restriction that groundwater from the site “is prohibited from use as a water supply.” A map included with the document showed the estimated extent of the “2L standard violation,” which crossed a small portion of the hotel property. The board members did not know the definition of a 2L violation.
Ellis said it would have been nice to have a copy of the document Conaway found before the meeting. Conaway said she should not have had to find the document; it should have been brought to the board.
Since they could not say for certain whether contamination had leached onto the property, Conaway said the town needed to have the soil tested.
“I think we have a responsibility to know what we’re getting into,” she stated.
The mayor, town manager and Commissioner Charles Mitchell did not seem to think the potential soil issue was a big problem, since surrounding businesses were still in operation and the state had not thought the problem severe enough to require testing at the hotel site.
“It’s not like this is a hazardous waste site or anything,” Ellis stated.
“One way or another, the old hotel’s gotta come down,” said Mayor Lewis, noting that the town could have to face the initial cost of the tear-down anyway if the owner did not comply with a demolition, which could result in a legal conflict.
Commissioner Elwood Mabe said he did not like going into the unknown. But Mitchell said if testing of the site had not been required, why did they need to test it?
Commissioner Kim Lewis said, “I do think we’ve got a can of worms opened up.”
She said she would like to know what a 2L standard violation is, what the restriction is on the nearby property, the cost of testing the soil, and whether the Local Government Commission or DENR thought testing needed to be done. Commissioner Lewis later put that in the form of a motion, and the board agreed to table the issue until the information could be gathered.
Mitchell said he hoped the board would not keep tabling issues from month to month and “make a mountain out of a molehill.”
Marianne Dehart Northington was notified last August that the hotel structure was condemned and may need to be torn down. Yellow caution tape was placed around the structure. Though initial reports were that Northington had 60 days to make a decision about the hotel, its future has remained undecided.