Editor’s Note: The agenda for the April 2, 2019 Commissioner’s Meeting was short, but the meeting ended up lasting two hours. The reason appeared obvious. The Commissioners have stopped taking orders from disgraced and defeated Commissioner Chairman Eddie Holbrook. Stopped having to have to decide everything behind closed doors before Commissioner’s Meetings and then come out and vote on every item unanimously. Now it is discussion, discussion and more discussion in front of the public. And then vote. Often a split vote. This process might not be perfect, but it is a heck of a lot better than it has been. Over-all, I say Hallelujah for Cleveland County. Maybe there is hope after all. With some more tweaking in the 2020 Elections.
This April 2, 2019 meeting had only two major items on the agenda:
A rezoning request for some additional property owned by Fisher Tree Service on 180 North from Restricted Residential to Light Industrial. The owner, Stephen Fisher, stated his business was expanding and he wanted to rezone the additional property he had purchased to expand his mulching and wood splitting (firewood) business in a responsible manner. Some neighbors were concerned that if the business was sold sometime in the future, the new owner might not be as responsible as Mr. Fisher. The Planning Board had requested a delay in the approval process to allow them to write all the concerns into a Zoning resolution to make sure everybody would be happy-now and in the future. Johnny Hutchins was in favor of approval immediately and the other four Commissioners voted to give the Planning Board the additional time to cross all the “T’s” and dot all the “i’s” and then approve the rezoning. It was a 4-1 vote, but with a reasonable conclusion that appeared to make everybody happy, happy, happy. Plus, a small business expansion that would create a few more jobs. Without the county spending big tax dollars for incentives.
The second item was regarding the Old Doran Mill Property. For a clear picture here, you have to go through a little history.
The Doran Mill was built around 1927 and the population in Cleveland County doubled. Textile jobs galore for many years. Then ten years or so ago, textiles in NC as well as in the USA went bust. And the Doran Mill Closed. Taxes on the property (evaluated at about $1.6 million) were not paid and the county foreclosed by paying $300 thousand. A property supposedly worth $1.6 Million now belonged to Cleveland County for only $300 thousand. A good deal for taxpayers by all accounts at the time.
But Cleveland County government being Cleveland County Government, good deals are reserved for some good-ole-boys to make a killing on. And the County saw to it that they did.
Some good-ole-boys sold the fools running Cleveland County on an idea to turn the old Doran Mill property into a bunch of Data Centers, a popular idea at the time. All the Commissioners had to do was to GIVE the good-ole-boys the Doran property and the taxes on the Data Centers would make Cleveland County rich.
Only thing was, the good-ole-boys didn’t build any Data Centers on the property. They didn’t even pay property taxes for several years. What they did do was strip everything out of the old mill, sell it and pocket the money for themselves. Rumors say over $1 million. Maybe $2 million. Even the old mill wooden beams were stripped out of the mill, sawn into fancy flooring and installed into the NewGrass Brewery in Uptown Shelby-that several of the good-ole-boys owned.
Then the good-ole-boys tried to sell the property at a big price by advertising a new industrial park site, complete with a distillery and a Gardner-Webb University Incubator. With Gardner-Webb’s approval. None of this turned out so the good-ole-boys stopped paying property taxes and the county foreclosed again.
The bottom-line numbers are:
The Good-Ole-Boys pocketed over $1 Million and only paid the county a total of about $35,000 in property taxes before they defaulted.
The mill buildings were all gutted of anything of value and the site was left in a total mess. The County Engineer reported at the April 2, 2019 Commissioner’s Meeting that the property clean-up was complete and grass had been planted on the site at a cost of $800,000.
County Manager Brian Epley gave the Commissioners three options of what to do with the property, moving forward: (Everything is always termed “Moving Forward” with the bad project history glossed over.)
1. Sell immediately-at a LOSS.
2. Fund a new industrial project on the site.
3. Build a housing development on the property.
County Manager Epley asked the Commissioners for direction.