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Minnesott Beach Votes No On Acquiring Golf Course
Three votes against, one abstaining
August 14, 2019

T
he Town of Minnesott Beach has voted down a proposal to acquire the property of the Minnesott Beach Golf and Country Club. This was decided by the Minnesott Beach Town Board at the Tuesday, August 13 Town Meeting.

Anticipating a crowd, town officials convened in the town’s equipment garage for a public hearing and vote on the proposal to purchase the 150 acre club property. The golf club has struggled in recent years with a declining membership. Under the proposed purchase agreement, the town would acquire the property, then lease the land and buildings to the club for $1 per year for the next six years. The price for all the land, and the buildings – was a modest $270,000.

The meeting was crowded. Many attending had to stand just outside the opened garage bay doors. The 20 chairs provided for public seating were filled well before the meeting convened at 7p as residents continued to arrive on foot, by golf cart, and automobiles (even after Mayor Tim Fowler called the meeting to order.)

Mayor Fowler advised the gathering of approximately 100 persons that each of the 21 individuals that had indicated a desire to speak could simply say yes or no indicating their position on the purchase or they could have up to 3 minutes to address the board.

Charles Ernie Salter signing up to speak

A partisan mood in favor of the purchase was evident in the audience. Seventeen people spoke in favor of the purchase, four against. The recurring theme of proponents of the purchase was the possibility of property taxes plummeting if the town did not vote to acquire the property. Also cited was the attractive price of $270,000 for 150 acres, swimming pool, and buildings.

Gladys Casey, a former Minnesott commissioner, observed that this was probably the largest turnout ever for a public hearing in Minnesott Beach.

Judith Lynch was first to speak citing the proposal as a tremendous opportunity which could not be turned down. “I have always been afraid developers would come and build condos and develop this property. That’s not what Minnesott Beach is about. I applaud the commissioners for considering this and standing up for our community and its lifestyle.”

Judith Lynch

Lucy Seegan, observed, “We moved here from Phoenix, which we all know is a big golf community. We felt in love with North Carolina and Minnesott Beach, we love that it’s a small but well run community. I was in real estate. I investigated this area and was impressed. Irene came in our first year here. Oriental was still foundering underwater a year later; Minnesott Beach, 3 weeks later, looked like nothing had happened to it. This is a jewel; real estate here is prime. If the town acquires the land, it will protect that jewel, it will protect it from people, outsiders coming in who might take advantage of some fiscal problems we once had, but now are on the mend.”

Ever Warren, a former town commissioner, said, “In the beginning, I was really not in favor of this. But if the town doesn’t take over this golf club, there will be no golf club; everybody’s property except those who live on the waterfront will go down. If the town purchases the property, this land will continue to be a value to the town and to those who play golf.”

Ted Tyndall spoke next. “My heart and pocket book are here. I live by the golf course. Looking at the asset the club is to Minnesott Beach and to Pamlico County, and at the premium discount the club is offering to the town, if the board here can not see that this as a great deal, then maybe they are not representing the people of the town.”

Stuart Hurst. “My stepfather was instrumental in bringing this golf club here. Our property values, without any doubt, are directly connected to that country club. I have seen communities in New who have closed their golf course immediately lose 30% of the value of their houses and it’s gone down since then as weeds grew on the golf course. Oriental has boats; Minnesott Beach has golf. Our property taxes will not go up. There is no reason in the world anybody could say, ‘Let it go.’ If 20 years from now, future generations want to plow a road down the middle of the fairways and sell lots for 50 grand apiece, you’ll come out to the good. How could you not buy an 18 hole golf course for $270,000. I mean, I’m a preacher, but I know that.”

Chas Maimone suggested that the town should have some oversight over the board of the country club, watching over them maintain the property and roads.

Dot Lord was one of few who opposed the purchase though she said the course was a gem for the county. She then added, “I feel we are being shortsighted in rushing into a sale paying $270,000 for property worth $1.2 million.” She told the commissioners properties were selling and club membership was going to increase.” Perhaps speaking from a club perspective, she said, “I see membership increasing and we are going to be lost if we sell the course to the town.”

Gail Johnson said she wanted to see the course succeed perhaps more than most. “I know the history more than nine tenths of you. We have something here that Oriental does not have; they tried to have a 9 hole course once, but it didn’t work. I have to trust the board that they have looked at the money situation and that we can take care of town needs and my ditch. I am not playing golf, but I walk on it.”

Trisha Day

Trish Day was opposed to the purchase. “The members of the golf club need to sit down and fix their problems within and not come to the town for a quick fix.” She suggested the members could buy the course so it would not become a money pit for the town, concluding that it was a no-win situation.

Josh Potter, former mayor of Minnesott was adamantly in favor of the purchase. “You cannot afford not to do this; the town has the money, money is not the issue. The golf course is valuable to businesses that offer golf as perk. It is an asset to the Croaker Festival, to the high school golf team, to many tournaments held there, plus the buildings and the pool can be rented for weddings and activities.” He closed with an enthusiastic, “Go for it.” which brought a demonstrative round of applause.

Josh Potter

Bill Chandler favored the purchase but also favored careful oversight of how the club was being operated.

Paul Scott was a definite no. “We didn’t move here to play golf; we were members of the boat ramp, but they ran us off with the price of that. To use the boat ramp, it’s over $700 per year, and its a short season.”

Alan Asher is a new resident, not a golfer, but he called the deal a steal for the town. “If the town defaults, the town has a swimming pool that would be open to all residents and an air conditioned building (which brought the largest round of laughter from the audience suffering August’s sweltering heat in the town’s garage) that can be available to townspeople. The buildings and pool make the 150 acres of land a bonus. There could be walking trails, no limit to what the town could do with the land.”

Alan Asher

Walt Johnson moved here from Indiana. Another non-golfer, he stated he did not have a dog in this hunt, but did have an anecdote to share. He related that John Cougar Mellencamp did not invest in his small Indiana hometown and it became a dump. He said the opposite occurred for the nearby small town that was home for the founder of Cummins Diesel. He likened the investment made by the Cummins Diesel founder and the ensuing results as what Minnesott Beach could accomplish with an investment of only pennies on the dollar.

Garvin Hardison, Jr, is the grandson of Namon Hardison who founded Minnesott Beach in the 1940s by erecting a dance hall and pavilion out over the Neuse River. Marines stationed at the recently constructed MCAS Cherry Point constituted a significant part of the pavilion’s clientele, sometimes arriving by private ferry. Hardison said, “I’ve lived here all my life. I remember when only five families lived here. I don’t want to see it go back to that. I remember the country club was where I squirrel hunted. I don’t want to see it go back to that. It would be a shame for us to lose what’s been invested here.”

Garvin Hardison

Janet Armstrong was opposed to the proposal citing current poor management of the club. She countered those who worried about what might happen to the property if the club closed by noting that zoning laws addressed that issue.

David Gaskins, couldn’t say yes or no based on the information available. Noting that that young people were not playing golf anymore, he observed, “At some point in the next 6 years, Minnesott will have to take it over.”

David Gaskins

Doug Brinson, a county commissioner, had a general comment for the board. Citing such a purchase as a bold move, he said, “Generally, government should not be taking over private enterprise. You have an overwhelming majority here in favor, so I know you are going to do the right thing and go through with it, but I do hope you make some changes in management.”

Doug Brinson

Bill Adkins yielded his time with an acknowledgement that everything had already been said that needed to be sid.

Craig Baker said in his heart he did not believe the club would survive for six more years. He then said, “In my eyes, that’s all the more reason to buy this property as a recreational area for the community.”

Claudia Bland, in a letter, told commissioners they were leaving the door wide open for extended liability and that the residents should see a master plan for how this operation would function.

Charles Ernie Salter, former commissioner, “I wanted to be smart and keep my mouth shut. I’m 78 years old, I think. I’m against this. Minnesott Beach is on the water, but there is no place town residents can access the water for recreation and pleasure. There are waterfront houses and lots for sale for this amount of money that could be a town beach. I have fought tooth and nail for Minnesott to have a beach. I am not against the club, but I don’t think it’s the town’s responsibility to bail them out. If I were losing money and couldn’t pay for my house, would the town come bail me out?”

At the conclusion of the public hearing, town commissioners offered brief comments. Adam Garfinkel wanted to make clear, that no one would be walking away with $270,000 in their pocket. He then said that he was recusing himself from voting in the interest of transparency and due to the financials involved. He did suggest that many facts had been misrepresented, adding, “In the interest of open government, I will not not be voting, but I stand with my fellow commissioners in whatever decision they make. But I will recuse myself. I will stand lock step with the other four members at this table; the fact that I am not voting does not mean I don’t wholeheartedly stand behind them.”

Prior to the motion to purchase the golf course property property , Minnesott Commissioners offered very brief and somewhat generic comments thanking those for attending. In their comments, there was no indication as to how they would ultimately vote on the issue. After a motion was made by Commissioner Garfinkel to purchase the property, there was no further discussion among the commissioners. Left to right are Mayor Fowler, Mayor Pro Temp Adam Garfinkel, Commissioners, Cliff Braly, Starr Murphy, and Pete Hall.

Commissioner Starr Murphy thanked all who attended. She said that of the people who had personally contacted her, it was 50 – 50 for and against the purchase,

Commissioner Pete Hall said, as a business man, I don’t think it’s government responsibility to bail out a business. He indicated there was a way through this, adding, “I’m still kind of on the fence.”

When a member of the audience wanted to respond to Hall’s comments, the mayor would not allow him to do so because the public hearing had ended.

Commissioner Garfinkel, who had recused himself from voting, then made a motion to make the purchase, saying, “We are not buying the course. This is a motion to purchase the property on which the golf course sits.”

Following Garfinkel’s motion, and no further discussion or debate about the merits of the issue, the mayor called for all in favor to raise their right hands. Garfinkel, having recused himself, did not vote for his own motion. The other commissioners, Cliff Braly, Pete Hall, and Starr Murphy, did not raise their right hands.

The only audible and demonstrable response from the audience came from former mayor Josh Potter, “Mistake, mistake, mistake. Big mistake.”

After the meeting, citing the overwhelming support for the purchase, Cindy and Bill Ista voiced their disappointment. “The board said they wanted to hear from the residents, yet they voted against the purchase. Why? Was there information the board had that was not shared? Perhaps a vote should have been delayed so all scenarios could have been researched and questions answered.”

Judith Lynch was more direct. “Ya can’t fix stupid. Despite the overwhelming support of the citizens, the commissioners went their own way.”

After The Vote
TownDock.net spoke with Golf Club President Ed Kujat the day after the vote: “Obviously we are very disappointed in the outcome of the vote, but this is surely not the end of the club. There are other alternatives we can pursue. Our desire to sell the property to the Town of Minnesott Beach at such a drastically reduced price was to preserve this beautiful open space for the future, especially from an environmental perspective, considering benefits for the town and the wildlife for which this property is home.”

Could this issue be brought up again in the future? Minnesott Beach Mayor Tim Fowler, who supported the proposal to acquire the property, said “No. The board voted. We need to move on.”

Posted Wednesday August 14, 2019 by Ben Casey


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