Butterfield to visit South Henderson

Rep. G.K. Butterfield will follow in the footsteps of predecessor Frank Ballance and 2nd District colleague Bob Etheridge by riding around Henderson this week.

Butterfield, a Democrat serving his first full term in Congress from North Carolina’s 1st District, is due to take the cleanup-oriented tour of the city at 10:30 Thursday morning, to be followed by lunch downtown.

Mayor Clem Seifert told the City Council’s Finance and Intergovernmental Relations Committee last week that one certain stop will be the old South Henderson School, where the mayor plans to ask the congressman for $10,000 in federal funds to tear down the privately owned dilapidated structure.

Code Compliance Director Corey Williams and Clean Up Henderson Committee Chairwoman Lynn Harper have spent months working with the owner of the old school site, Stewart Clark, and an Enfield contractor, Allen Stallings, to arrange the long-overdue demolition of the asbestos-ridden structure.

Stallings, who grew up in Henderson and attended the school, has agreed to demolish the building free of charge in return for the right to salvage the valuable bricks.

That’s a significant move because the estimated price for the demolition job several years ago was up to $80,000, Williams told the FAIR Committee on Thursday.

Stallings’ involvement left the asbestos as the main impediment to removing a structure that has blighted the neighborhood for two decades.

Clark, who can’t do anything with the 2-acre site until the building is gone, had the bulk of the asbestos removed, but he wants the city to pick up the cost of disposing of the material in the crawl space after Stallings removes the bricks.

The city will have to take any material tainted by asbestos to Granville County, which has a landfill approved for such disposal. Seifert said the total disposal cost will be $5,000 to $10,000, money that the city doesn’t have.

The mayor wants to push ahead with the demolition, promising to find the money somewhere later, whether from a special congressional appropriation, from private fund raising or from some other source.

Council members balked at the precedent of spending sparse city dollars for work on private property without applying a tax lien, as is done when Williams demolishes abandoned homes.

Seifert justified the move by claiming that the old school is a unique situation, although he also said he’d gladly make a similar deal if 50 other owners of abandoned structures in the city were willing to enter voluntary demolition agreements.

He also said the South Henderson School site will be a fenced, graded lot that would be perfect for the city, and he said Clark has agreed to sell the cleared site to the city at an unspecified good price.

Still, Seifert did not commit to any use of the land and later during the meeting said he wasn’t sure the city would even want the site. He focused on the ability to control the use of the land and prevent Clark from doing something such as establishing a mobile home park, which would be allowed there with a special-use permit.

Questioned by council members, Seifert seemed aggravated that rather than push ahead with the demolition, his colleagues were willing to wait several months to secure the financing of the work and to get more details on the future of the land.

“Y’all ask folks to go out and do something proactive and positive, and that’s what we tried to do, and … you’re talking about money,” Seifert snapped.

FAIR Committee Chairman Bernard Alston won wide support on the council for a suggestion that the city sign an option to buy the property. An option, he explained, would establish the purchase price and a period in which the city could act, but the city could choose not to exercise the option. Options usually involve a payment; in this case, the payment would be the money spent to dispose of the post-demolition debris. That would resolve the problem of public money being spent on private property.

Council member John Wester advocated a tougher approach. As he sees it, Clark can have his property cleared at a greatly discounted price, courtesy of Stallings, or he can take on the project himself at a cost of $90,000 or more. Or Clark can leave the dilapidated structure, making his property useless.

Harper, who attended the FAIR meeting, said the city’s bargaining position is strongest while the building remains, so she’d like to see all the details settled before the work is done. After decades of waiting, she said, she sees no problem with a delay of a few more months.

Congressman Butterfield could have the next word Thursday.