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June 22, 2012
Barbara Stockton says that Oriental’s Town Board should “slow down” with its proposed land swap on Oriental’s harbor, “and do it right.” She started a petition drive asking the Board to not abandon several rights-of-way that are key to the deal, as the Board is poised to do as early as a July 3 public hearing.
Without any publicity, Stockton says the “Petition Opposing Proposed Abandonment of Rights Of Way” has been signed by more than 50 people in the past two weeks. A petition has been on the counter at Village Hardware and Stockton has been collecting signatures at the Oriental Farmers’ Market.Barbara Stockton at the Oriental Farmers’Market on June 16 with the petition.
Stockton says the petition evolved because of the frustration she had with the Town Board at a mid-May meeting. There, a dozen people spoke out, none in favor. Most criticized the Town for not getting more land and riparian rights in the deal. Many asked questions that went unanswered as the board voted 4-1 to okay the contract with businessman Chris Fulcher.
The petition says the Town should have negotiated a better deal with Chris Fulcher than is now proposed.
In the deal, the Town would give up more than 13,000 square feet of rights-of-way — at the harbor end of South Avenue, all of Avenue A and still-undelineated areas near what had been Neuse Front Street (and potentially, under the land where Fulcher’s fish operation sits at the entrance to Oriental’s harbor.) The Town would be giving up almost three times the land mass it would be getting – a 4500 square foot harborfront lot with an unfinished dock that Fulcher would give the Town.
Oriental’s Mayor and Town Manager have touted that lot because toilets could be built on it, something not usually allowed on rights-of-way. But Fulcher’s bulkheaded lot measures 55 feet on the harbor, while the Town would give up a wider, unbulkheaded lot with about 80 feet of waterfront.
Several sailors contend that the riparian rights the Town would get from Fulcher would mean much less maneuvering room for boats — 22 feet on one side of the dock — than they’d have if the Town proceeded with its original plan of building a dock at the end of South Avenue. The tight docking, they say, would frustrate rather than welcome the transient boaters the Town has said it wants to attract.
If the Town abandons its (more than) quarter acre of rights-of-way, Fulcher would then own one continuous sweep of land extending from Wall Street, along the Neuse waterfront, around the point with his unroofed building and up that side of the harbor to the edge of the lot he proposes to give the Town.
The petition which Stockton and fellow land-swap skeptic Jim Privette drew up does not take issue with Chris Fulcher. Instead, it takes issue with the negotiating done — or not done — by the Town. For instance, the petition states that, “despite requests for the Town to appraise or otherwise value the property interests to be exchanged, the Town has declined to state the values.”Petition, at left and at right a map showing in color what the land swap would do. The red parts on the map are some of the properties that Chris Fulcher now owns; the yellow parts are what the town would give up. Purple is what the town would end up with. (The red and yellow bits would then represent Mr. Fulcher’s holdings on the riverfront and harbor. The map, based on a survey paid for by Mr. Fulcher for the contract, does not show the full extent of his existing land holdings around the point of the harbor.)
The Town has not appraised — or at least publicly stated — what the market value of that land (now Town rights-of-way) that would make all of Chris Fulcher’s property contiguous. Town Manager Bob Maxbauer, who did the negotiating, has contended for months that the rights of way had no value to the Town.
But Barbara Stockton counters that the Town’s negotiator should have been thinking of what that land was worth not to the Town but rather, to Mr. Fulcher. If the Town had done that, she says, it likely could have demanded more of Fulcher than the 4500 square foot lot and the 55 feet of harborfront now in the deal.
“All real estate has value.” says Stockton, who worked in that business in Northern Virginia before moving to Oriental 7 years ago. She says she couldn’t imagine entering a deal or a negotiation without knowing the numbers.
With the land swap, Stockton says, “there’s been no study period. No appraisals have been done. None of the things have been done that would be prudently done in a real estate deal.” She says she’d like to know why. Having gotten no answers when she and others asked questions at the May 17 board meeting, she began the petition drive in hopes of stopping the deal from going through as now written.
Town Commissioner, Barbara Venturi has said that the petition aims to “stop one of the best opportunities” and a “wonderful thing” for Oriental. She was one of the commissioners to approve the contract in a 4-1 vote in May.
Despite the odds, Barbara Stockton is now working to gather the signatures of Oriental residents, property owners (taxpayers) and business owners and aims to present them to the Town Board in advance of the July 3 public hearing.Independent of the petition, a related viewpoint critical of the land swap. This cartoon, using a photo of old Oriental, appears in the window of The Steamer on Broad Street.The cartoon presents the view that the rights-of-way are streets that, by law, cannot be sold. Oriental resident Ben Cox has been making that case.
Unmentioned in the petition but very much on Stockton’s mind when interviewed this week, is the Town Board’s decision to schedule the hearing on the eve of the Fourth of July holiday.
“Don’t you think that’s a rather odd time?” she asked, echoing a sentiment heard around town. Stockton charges that the hearing was scheduled for that night “so fewer people would attend.” Being a holiday week, she says, “residents have their families in town or are going out of town.” She worries that people may have other things on their mind than speaking at a hearing.
As for herself, she says that she “didn’t come to Oriental to get involved in politics.” But in the face of a land swap contract with many unanswered questions, she says, “somebody has to.”
Those wanting to contact Barbara Stockton to sign the petition, may call 252-617-9565 during business hours. A copy of the petition may be read and downloaded, here.
Update: Stockton has been told that she could no longer bring her petition to the Oriental Farmers’ Market after being there on June 9 and 16. Town Board member Sherrill Styron, who owns the parking spaces where the Market takes place said that if the market wanted to remain there, he wanted “no politics — especially something I don’t agree with.” Stockton collected signatures on Saturday June 23 on the street near the harbor.