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Grifton to restart bidding process on property


By Amber Revels-Stocks
The Times-Leader

Saturday, August 18, 2018

GRIFTON — After winning a bid on a parcel of land owned by the town, a Grifton business owner will have to restart the bidding process.

Dax Nelson, owner of the Grifton Café, bid on a lot of land on the corner of Wall and Lewis streets and won. However, he is going to have to start the process over again after Grifton Attorney Cliff Parsons raised concerns about the bidding process.

“I don’t understand,” Nelson said at the Aug. 7 Grifton Board of Commissioners meeting. “I won the bid and did everything legally the way I was told to by the town manager. Why do I have to do this over again?”

Nelson approached the town to inquire about land for sale. He owns developments in Greenville, Winterville and Robersonville. Former Grifton Manager Joe Johnson informed Nelson about the property for sale at the Lewis Street location.

Nelson expressed interest, so Johnson asked the board of commissioners through email if they would be willing to sell the land. Johnson received affirmative responses from all the commissioners, so he proceeded with the sale. Nelson’s was the only bid for the property.

However, Parsons expressed issue with the email. While it is legal for the board to agree to sell town property through email, he worried that a local resident might challenge the sale by saying he or she was unaware of the bidding process.

“(The ad about the parcel) ran in the newspaper for 10 days. Isn’t that good enough for everybody to know?” Nelson asked.

When he received the sale contract, Parsons disagreed and asked the board to begin the selling process in an open meeting.

Commissioner Mary Grace Bright asked for confirmation the town had followed all North Carolina laws. Johnson confirmed the town legally abided by the process.

“(Parsons) wants the board to start the process in an open meeting as extra protection for the board,” Johnson said.

The bidding process will have to start from the beginning, according to Johnson.

The process could take months, which would delay Nelson’s plans to build a subdivision, Commissioner Will Barnes said.

At earliest Nelson could take possession of the property after the Sept. 11 board meeting, Bright said.

Commissioners asked what could happen if someone wanted to fight the purchase.

It is possible that the state of North Carolina could decide the process was handled incorrectly — even though all statutes were followed — and determine Nelson did not own the property he developed, Johnson said, As such, the homeowners could not buy the property from Nelson. This means the property and the homes would belong to the town of Grifton.

“It’s unfair,” Nelson said. “I followed the process as told to me. If I had been told the process was different, I would’ve done something different.”

He said he has concerns that he may be outbid this time around.

“I understand that, but at the same time, wouldn’t you rather be safe than sorry?” asked Commissioner Claude Kennedy. “If you purchased the land and built a home and the state comes around and says you don’t own it, how’d you feel? I’d feel bad for you.”

Kennedy made a motion to move forward with the selling process by starting the bidding process over. Commissioner Johnny Craft seconded, followed by more discussion.

“We’d be remiss to disregard the attorney’s recommendation, regardless of if I agree with him or not,” Bright said. “I apologize to you, Mr. Nelson, but I don’t think we have a choice.”

She asked for a special called meeting after the bidding process had finished, so the board could vote to sell the property. This would enable the high bidder to take ownership of the land sooner than the Sept. 11 meeting.

The board agreed. Kennedy’s motion passed unanimously.

However, Nelson is uncertain if he wants to buy the land. He placed a bid for the same amount he previously purchased the property for, but if he is outbid, Nelson may not try to buy more property in Grifton.

“I’ve bought a business here,” Nelson said, referring to Grifton Café. “I want to bring housing here. If I can’t trust the town to treat me fairly, then why would I want to do business here? … I did everything right, and now I have to start all over again and might get outbid.”

Barnes told Nelson that he “loved every bit” of Nelson’s plan to bring new housing to Grifton and hoped this setback would not sour his opinion.

“This was an honest mistake. … We’ll make sure it never happens again,” Bright said.