Southerland wants to buy back family pond

Former City Council member Robert Southerland addressed the City Council on Monday concerning the fate of Southerland Mill Pond. He appeared at the invitation of council member Mary Emma Evans.

The city bought the pond from the Southerland family in 1953 to increase the city’s water supply. The need for the pond was eliminated when the Kerr Lake Regional Water System started producing drinking water.

The Southerland family owns the adjacent tracts.

Southerland gave the council a short history of the pond. According to the former council member, the pond was created by dams for the purpose of milling. The current dam that holds the water has leaks in it, Southerland claimed.

That condition, Southerland argued, is a liability for the city.

When the city acquired the land, it set up a pumping station to increase the city’s water capacity. The remains of the pumping station are there, according to Southerland, with rusted pipes and other refuse.

Southerland also informed the council that the plot on which the pond lies is surrounded by swampland. He noted that swampland is hard to build on, especially when attempting to install septic systems. He further noted that sewage spills occasionally end up at the pond.

An appraisal of the property was done on behalf of the city in 1998, Southerland told the council. He proceeded to point out what he perceived to be several mistakes, including a wrong location given, a statement that hazardous material was present and an assessment price of $45,000 per acre.

Southerland insisted before the council that he was not engaged in real estate speculation. He volunteered that he was not planning to put in a development. The former council member maintained that the land is “low and unbuildable.”

Southerland ended his presentation with a request that the council vote to sell the property back to his family.

City Council member Ranger Wilkerson told Southerland that the city has 20 pieces of property that it has been trying to get rid of for a long time. Although he did not know how the price would be set, he said: “I’d like to see you get it.”

A discussion of the appraisal ensued. Mayor Clem Seifert asked City Attorney John Zollicoffer if the appraiser could be requested to review the appraisal, since it appeared to contain many factual errors. Zollicoffer affirmed that the request could be made but also indicated to the mayor that he had not dealt with the appraiser in several years and that he might no longer be in the area. Mention was also made of the need to review the other appraisals done at the same time for accuracy.

Council member Elissa Yount informed the council that this particular piece of city property had not been discussed in committee as being offered for sale. She cited a need to investigate it and to study the appraisal issue before making a determination regarding a bid made by Southerland.

Seifert asked Zollicoffer to remind the council regarding the process of disposing of city property and dealing with unsolicited bids. Zollicoffer told the council that offers have to be in line with something the city would realistically consider. He went on to remind the council that it needs to vote favorably on a resolution of intent to sell the property and that the sale must be advertised for 10 days. During that time, anyone may bid on the property offered for sale. After the period of advertising, the council may decide to sell to the highest bidder or to reject all bids.

Seifert mentioned to the council that he had been contacted by local auction houses. He had been informed by those businesses that several municipalities have had success auctioning off surplus property.

Yount said the city has to consider its need for cash vs. Henderson’s natural legacy. She said earlier that North Carolina calls swamps “wetlands” and that the state considers them invaluable.

Evans expressed a hope that if the property is sold, that it be sold to the Southerland family.

Seifert thanked Southerland for bringing the appraisal issue to the attention of the council, ending the discussion.