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Originally published: 2014-02-08 16:20:31
Last modified: 2014-02-08 16:21:16

No buyer yet for old WHS

by Anna Oakes

"We've got no movement" on the sale of the old Watauga High School property, Watauga County Board of Commissioners Chairman Nathan Miller said Friday.

The 74-acre property off N.C. 105 remains on the market three and a half years after the opening of the new high school facility.

Miller said a real estate agent called him in late November or early December about someone who might be interested in the property, but that he hasn't heard anything since that time.

In December, the Boone Town Council voted to approve a six-month extension of its water ordinance, but removed language that designated a 150,000 gallon-per-day water reserve for the old high school property. Watauga County Manager Deron Geouque said the county received no notification from the town about its decision.

The Boone Town Council initially set aside 70,000 gpd for the 74-acre property in March 2011, but later increased the reserve amount to 150,000 gpd. The reserve was set to expire Dec. 31, 2011, but then was renewed until Dec. 31, 2013.

The county last fall asked the town to again renew the water allocation reserve, stating it was vital to the sale of the property.

But members of the Boone Water Use Committee - which recommended that the council let the reserve expire - expressed skepticism about the estimated water needs for the property. And committee member Pam Williamson suggested that the town negotiate with the county over the reserve in the coming months as part of efforts to restore Boone's previous share of local sales tax revenue.

Miller said he believed the expiration of the reserved water allocation had hurt the prospects of selling the property.

"Everybody who tries to develop in the town of Boone knows that you need water," he said. "It was worth more with the water." And he said he wouldn't be willing to negotiate over water and sales tax revenue, claiming that the property value was still hampered by Boone's land use regulations.

Developer Templeton Properties withdrew an $18.9 million offer to purchase the property last spring, stating the town's new multi-family housing standards made the project unfeasible.

The language adopted offered an exemption from the new standards for mixed-use projects approved via the conditional B-3 district rezoning process; under the exemption, if phased construction is planned, the developer is required to provide the town with financial assurances that commercial portions will be built.

The county received a $14.2 million offer for the property from Fuqua Acquisitions last summer, but tabled it, stating it wasn't enough money.