“I think it’s great,” said neighborhood resident Phillip Gibbs. “This will give the community something to look forward to, and to name after our heroes.”
The agreement, ratified by the town on Feb. 28 and the county on March 6, will convey to the town three parcels located on Craven Road but straddling Calvary Street and backing up to the Mountain Projects Head Start facility.
Assessed at $27,300, the parcels serve as home to a decaying, unsecured former church that has drawn increased criminal activity to the historically African-American neighborhood that is currently the subject of a survey as a possible National Register historic district.
Under terms of the agreement Waynesville will pay $1 for just over three-fourths of an acre, which it is to develop into a park, picnic area, playground and parking lot over the course of about five years.
To date, the county has spent around $20,000 in the acquisition of the property through the foreclosure process; Waynesville Town Manager Rob Hites said he estimates cleanup costs to be around $5,000 and eventual costs for the full development of the park to be in the $60,000 range.
Also stipulated is that the town will remove the building and clean the site within six months. If the town fails — or at any point in the future fails to use the property for a park — ownership would revert back to the county, which acquired the lots through foreclosure.
But early in the process, another man hoped to buy the parcels from the county to turn the area into an “events center.”
Residents were concerned that such usage would simply continue to draw unwanted traffic and commercial activity to the property, and said as much at public hearings before both the town and the county earlier this year.
Gibbs was one of several community members who spoke in support of the park idea and had previously said he hoped the park would be named “Obama-King Park.”
Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown has steadfastly maintained the need for that the park outweighs the perpetual loss in taxable value of the property, calling it “addition by subtraction” and Waynesville’s Police Chief Bill Hollingsed has also voiced support for the elimination of what has become a problem area for his officers.
The town’s acquisition of the land also helps to ameliorate another minor municipal shortcoming; Assistant Town Manager Amie Owens pointed out the dual benefit the town would realize from turning the land into a park.
“It’s a goal that we’ve had for a while — to increase neighborhood parks and have other facilities available for citizens to use,” Owens said. “So this will be a welcome addition to the Pigeon community.”
A consultant from Chicago-based Alfred Benesch and Company who helped work on Waynesville’s comprehensive recreation plan said that towns of Waynesville’s size usually have about 10 acres of recreational property per thousand residents, meaning that Waynesville should have about a hundred acres; currently, it owns 52.
Although the Calvary Street lots won’t make a huge dent in that number, the forthcoming park is a good sign for residents of the Pigeon Street community, many of whom were upset when a 2016 effort to rename Pigeon Street after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. encountered harsh opposition.
“I don’t care who you are or where you’re from, we all need something to uplift us,” Gibbs said. “Right now, that area is a rat hole that just brings you down.”