A year-and-a-half ago, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners embraced the idea of having a private company build a golf course atop the former county landfill on Riverside Drive.
But at the board’s Jan. 7 meeting, the commissioners unanimously voted to rescind the contract they signed with Fox Ridge Golf Properties and give the company back its $45,000 deposit.
Although the commissioners are still receptive to the idea, County Attorney Joe Connolly told the board that the company hadn’t been able to come up with enough money to fund the project, primarily because the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks have made financing harder to come by.
Fox Ridge had planned to build an 18-hole championship public golf course on the site, along with a driving range, putting greens and pro shop under a 40-year lease. The company was to invest $3 million in the property and pay rent plus 25 percent of net revenues to the county. In turn, the county would have chipped in $1 million from the landfill’s closure fund to pay for infrastructure improvements.
Before the vote, Vice Chairman David Young asked Connolly to explain why he was recommending that the board return the deposit.
Connolly replied that the county could have taken the position that Fox Ridge hasn’t fulfilled the terms of the contract and so has forfeited its deposit. But he said he didn’t think the deal has cost the county anything so far, and rescinding the contract early would allow the county to pursue other options.
At the same time, Fox Ridge is courting a new investor, said Connolly, so the company may come back before the board with a new proposal.
Commissioner Bill Stanley — who championed the original proposal — said the board couldn’t keep the money if it opted out before October anyhow, adding later in the meeting, “We rescind this now, we’re free to go.”
After the meeting, Stanley corrected himself on the cutoff date as sometime in the spring rather than October. Indeed, according to the lease agreement, Fox Ridge had 18 months from the date the contract was signed (Oct. 15, 2001) to build the course and have it ready for play. So the company had until April 15 of this year to have the golf course ready, an unlikely possibility without financing in place.
During the meeting, County Manager Wanda Greene mentioned that other people are also interested in the property, though she didn’t give any specifics.
Young also suggested that giving back the deposit would mean the county wouldn’t be burning any bridges with Fox Ridge. Later, he observed that building a golf course on a landfill site is a tough way to make money, because the initial investment is high and the returns don’t come quickly.
“We’re not necessarily back to square one,” Chairman Nathan Ramsey said later. “We’re just regrouping.”
The stalwart few
Both the meeting and the work session that preceded it were sparsely attended and prompted just a smattering of public comment. Among the less than 20 people on hand were several regulars, however. Peter Dawes of the monthly Mountain Guardian News and Opinion griped about the county’s spending $450,000 in outside legal fees and promised that the commissioners would be challenged in the next election.
Don Yelton told the commissioners that the county ought to try recycling its construction-and-demolition wastes, prompting Greene to ask him for the name of a recycler. He handed her the name later in the meeting.
And Jerry Rice declared that he was having trouble getting information from the Buncombe County Schools and urged the board to audit the school system’s books.
Not giving up
In other business, Brenda G. Mills, director of the Asheville-Buncombe Office of Minority Affairs (a joint city/county body) presented her agency’s annual report. The city of Asheville did $2.2 million worth of business with certified minority businesses in fiscal year 2001-02, — doubling the $1.1 million spent in the previous fiscal year, according to the report. The county, however, spent slightly less money with certified minority businesses: $793,238 in fiscal year 2001-02, compared to $796,440 the year before.
There are 132 certified minority- and women-owned firms in Asheville and Buncombe County. And although Mills’ office continues to work to increase that number, she observed that there are limits to what services those businesses can provide. On a positive note, she reported that more certified minority business owners are attending the required training sessions given by her office. In addition, the county increased the amount of money it spent on professional services offered by minority businesses by more than $194,000 in the last fiscal year.
“We’re not giving up by any means,” Mills told the board.
Mills said later that the increase in city spending was due in large part to an extra $400,000 spent by the city’s Water Resources Department. Mills noted that the county cut its overall capital spending budget; in addition, the county’s core functions are in the human-services arena (which doesn’t match the services offered by many local minority businesses).
“Everybody on both sides is doing as much as they can,” Mills emphasized later.
The commissioners also made the following appointments: Judy McDonough, Nursing Home Community Advisory Committee; Patsy Keever and Dr. Scott McDonald, Board of Health; Peter McHugh, Blue Ridge Area Authority; and Doris Giezentanner, Asheville-Buncombe Community Relations Council.
Setting a record for brevity, the commissioners adjourned their formal meeting after a mere 29 minutes, with Stanley remarking later that it was the shortest meeting he could remember in his 14 years on the board.