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Town to pursue Calvary Street purchase

Town to pursue Calvary Street purchase

The town of Waynesville will move forward with plans to purchase three vacant, blighted lots straddling Calvary Street, despite interest from another private party.

The town and private citizen Michael Tate have both approached Haywood County Commissioners about purchasing the county-owned property, which occupies three-fourths of an acre and has a taxable value of $27,300. Tate has proposed purchasing the property and constructing some type of event center, but the town hopes to acquire the lots and construct a public park. Now the county — which acquired the property through a tax foreclosure proceeding — will have to decide whether to sell to the town and keep the parcels in their current tax-exempt status or sell to Tate and put the parcels back on the tax roll. 

When Tate addressed the board, commissioners seemed interested in keeping the property on the tax rolls and declined to move forward with the town’s request. 

On Jan. 10, Waynesville aldermen voted unanimously to ask county commissioners to enter into negotiation with the town to purchase the property, setting up a potential bidding war between Tate and the town. Neither has yet tendered an offer. 

“This has been on our radar for more than three years,” said Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown. “We can’t wait for him to do something. He had an opportunity to bid on the property at the tax sale, but he didn’t do it. At some point in time, we have to do that. We can’t wait for the private sector to take care of every problem.”

And it has been a problem — at least according to neighbors and Waynesville Chief of Police Bill Hollingsed, who said that his department has fielded “a few dozen” calls over the past few years, including reports of suspicious activity, suspicious persons and drug activity associated with the Calvary Street property.  

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“Taking this property off the tax rolls isn’t the worst thing in the world,” Brown said. 

“It’s a rat hole,” said Phillip Gibbs, neighborhood resident and member of the Waynesville Planning Board. He hopes the town will redevelop the property — at a cost Waynesville Town Manager Rob Hites estimates will be at least $60,000 — and build a park named after Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Last February, the African-American community in Waynesville approached the town board about renaming Pigeon Street after MLK, but the town never took action on the request following a heated debate at a town meeting.  

To get the MLK park, the town will have to outbid any offer Tate may make. While it’s unknown what Tate might offer, it’s likely that the town can bring to bear far more resources than most private individuals could. 

“I’m a capitalist at heart,” said Brown, an attorney who’s practiced law in Haywood County for more than 40 years. “But the shortcomings of the capitalist system can hurt our community.”

Local social service agency Mountain Projects operates a Head Start facility adjacent to the Calvary Street properties, and would also benefit from the improved appearance and functionality of a park; several neighborhood residents also attended the Jan. 10 meeting to oppose Tate’s proposal on the grounds that they didn’t want a nightclub-style venue in their backyards.  

Now that the town has formally entered the picture, the next step is for someone — Tate or the town — to make a formal offer to the county or the property. 

Tate has refused repeated requests for comment on this story. 

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