Norwood hearing on Juneberry annexation nears as debate continues

The Tuesday meeting of the Norwood Town Council will feature a public hearing where citizens can weigh in on the annexation of a local farm.

Juneberry Ridge Farm, formerly known as Lucky Clays Farm, has requested from Norwood staff to be annexed into the town.

According to Rob Boisvert, business development manager for Juneberry, plans for the 525-acre facility include a hotel which will have a restaurant and bar. In order to operate such, being annexed would allow the owners to get a state liquor license.

Currently, the property has five one-bedroom cabins, the Longleaf three-bedroom cabin and the Saskatoon Lounge, a kind of clubhouse, hangout and spa/workout space. The proposed inn and restaurant’s location would be close to the cabins.

Juneberry Ridge also has a competitive shooting facility which includes a trap field and the five-stand clay shooting area which can also double as an outdoor meeting facility.

Judy Carpenter, owner of Juneberry Ridge, was a state champion in trap shooting in 1977, and wanted to build a shooting facility of her own.

She retired from National Welders Supply and bought the land in Norwood on the recommendation of someone working on her house in Charlotte who was an Aquadale native.

The farm grew to include a 4,800-square-foot two-story conference center as well. A license would allow parties and other meetings to serve alcohol at those functions.

“I wanted to build a trap (facility) first, but (the vision for the farm) got bigger and bigger,” Carpenter said.

Included in that vision was sustainable farming, including a greenhouse for food for the 35 employees of the facility. Roughly 30 of the staff are from the Stanly area.

Norwood Town Administrator Scott Howard said the idea of annexing Juneberry Ridge, then named Lucky Clays, happened approximately a year ago when Harold Thompson was the town’s mayor.

Howard said the farm initially requested the town build a sewer line for the property. He said developers build the infrastructure then ask a municipality to take over operation of it.

One concern, Howard said, would be the town would be required to fulfill every service provided to other citizens of the town, including leaf and limb removal and water and sewer lines. He said the landowners could potentially run for public office in Norwood.

Sewer lines will not be a problem after a recent decision by Stanly’s county commissioners. According to County Manager Andy Lucas, the county “is committed to a public sewer extension aligned with new investment and job creation by Juneberry Ridge. The public sewer extension will be available to serve other customers other than Juneberry.”

The commissioners sent a letter to Howard regarding the sewer line. The letter states the county will connect Juneberry to the town’s sewer line at no cost to Norwood.

“We have promised that our annexation will not cost the town of Norwood any money, and our friends in the county have helped us deliver on that promise,” Boisvert said. “We are determined to make sure our annexation is a benefit for the town, not a burden.”

The town has researched some various questions brought up by the annexation proposal. Howard contacted Frayda Bluestein, a public law and government professor at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Government, for more information.

According to an email from Bluestein to Howard, towns like Norwood may not “enter into a contract that involves the city annexing an area in exchange for something that the property owner promises to do. North Carolina case law holds that the city can’t contract their legislative powers away.”

Cities also do not have the authority in the future to de-annex a property. The authority for such lies with the state’s General Assembly.

Another concern for the town has been the cost of police protection for Juneberry Ridge. The two sides, however, have differing ideas about how to generate that cost.

Howard said the cost per year would be more than $21,000 and would only generate $8,700 in taxes from the annexation of the 16 acres. The total cost includes for the salary and benefits for an existing officer.

The police cost estimation by Howard also includes two trips of the property every 24 hours for a nine-mile round trip, taking approximately two hours per day at an annual cost of approximately $10,944 in vehicle cost.

Boisvert said the time of the trip would be far less, approximately 23 minutes per trip. Using the same cost per mile as Howard, he said the annual cost for a patrol car was around $5,400, 47.6 percent less than Howard’s approximation, not including the salary and benefit numbers.

Initially, Juneberry was seeking to have all 550 acres annexed into the town, which exceeded annexation rules. Current rules state only 10 percent of what a town annexes in land can be a satellite annexation, such as what Juneberry would be.

However, the N.C. House recently passed Bill HB 19, sponsored by Stanly representatives Wayne Sasser and Ben Moss, which would free towns like Norwood from the 10 percent rule. The bill passed the House 115-2 and is still before the state Senate.

Should the entire property be annexed, Howard said, the tax benefit to the town would be around $20,000.

Trash pickup, which is free to Norwood citizens, would be involved with annexation as well. However, Boisvert pointed out commercial properties, including Juneberry, pay for pickup.

Howard said it’s a question of fairness and the law.

“The government is really keen on treating everybody the same…the way annexation law is, we have to annex them on their own merit without any promises or conditions.”

If the farm is annexed, Howard said Norwood “would be required by law to provide every service we provide, whether that be street lights, limb removal, that kind of stuff.”

One member of Norwood’s town council dealt with a similar annexation in the past.

Robbie Cohen was one of several partners who had the Edgewater development annexed into the town.

Cohen said the developers paid for the water and sewer construction, which had the potential to bring in $100 million in property value to the area.

He said the development was annexed on its potential for growth and not the value of the land before development.

Annexing Juneberry, as Edgewater was, is “absolutely a no-brainer for any municipality to accept” the request, he said.

Mayor Linda Campbell said she is “totally for economic development” and the people at Juneberry “seem to be wanting to do development for our county. I would love to incorporate (Juneberry) by annexing them.”

She said she wanted to know if the community is aware of the Juneberry annexation and “what their opinions are.”

Those opinions, she said, would weigh into her decision about the annexation and seeing how the farm’s sewer issues would work out.

One former Norwood mayor weighed in on his feelings about the annexation.

Darrell Almond said in his time as mayor the town did approximately six annexations, including Edgewater. He said there was always a little opposition, but “normally after things settle down people realize it was for the best.”

As long as it is cost effective for the town, and the annexation will create jobs and Norwood takes in more revenue than it spends out, annexation is a positive move, he said.

“If they can work a deal to bring them in, it helps everybody,” Almond said.

He said a hotel could bring more sales in gas and sales tax to make Norwood a destination for tourism.

“I fail to see a downside to it.”