County postpones purchase of properties in downtown

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff
mharrell@starhq.com

   During Monday night's monthly meeting, the Carter County commission decided to take no immediate steps in purchasing lots of land adjacent to its main courthouse on E. Elk Ave. However, commissioners are still toying with the notion of buying the five tracks of land that were recently sold as part of an estate auction.
   County officials are primarily interested in attaining the land to allow room for county offices to expand. The county would also like to look into the possibility of developing the land into parking lots in the future.
   "We don't want to end up like Greene County, where they have no parking at all," County Commissioner JoAnn Blankenship said. "We have to be futuristic."
   County Executive, Dale Fair is particularly interested in a 1,700 square-foot lot of land in front of the courthouse. He noted the land's proximity to county offices and highlighted several ways in which the county would benefit by owning the brick structure that stands on the property.
   "The only way we can control what business goes into that building in front of us is by owning it," Fair said.
   Owning the properties may be easier said than done. The combined final bids of all five properties are over $200,000 higher than their appraised value, and Fair stated that the county simply may not be able to make the land acquisitions.
   County Finance Director, Jason Cody told commissioners that the county does have some funds left over from those used after the flooding of Roan Mountain. He said these funds could go toward the purchase of land, but noted that the available funds are quite a bit less than the current bids posted on the properties.
   County commissioners were expected to make a decision on submitting higher post auction bids for the properties surrounding the courthouse but decided to postpone any action until the sales are final. The nature of the estate auction allows interested parties to submit bid increases of ten percent to Carter County Chancery Court until 5:00 p.m. Jan. 6, 2003.
   Charlotte McKeehan, Carter County Chancery Court clerk, said that, as of Monday afternoon, she had not received any post auction bid increases.
   The county will wait until after the chancery court approves the final purchases of land, then it will approach the new owners. Fair recommended the building and grounds committee meet with the final owners, then ask them to report to the full commission during January's meeting.
   Commissioners will most likely be approaching Ed and Jan Peters, whose bid of $90,000 for the lot adjacent to the front of the county courthouse is currently posted as the highest on record. Jan Peters said that she has been surprised by the events that have transpired since she placed her final bid at the auction Dec. 20.
   "I did not expect this to happen," Peters said. "It is not as exciting as it would have been if we could have gone ahead and started to move forward."
   Peters said that she believes she and the county need to work together and analyze what each wants for the property. She still would like to turn the brick building into a Carter Museum. Peters said she would call on the community's help to restore the historic building and establish the museum.