Not so fast…

By Tom Joyce -

What first appeared to be a 3-2 vote by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners in favor of transferring property at the Spencer’s redevelopment site downtown actually was a defeat of that move.

Four “yes” votes, rather than three, were required to approve a deed of correction to include all parts of the former Spencer’s Inc. site known as Lot 4, where a Barter theater expansion is envisioned, the city attorney has clarified.

In December, one building in Lot 4 had been conveyed to Park Place LLC, a city-appointed entity created to take ownership of that location to beat an end-of-year deadline to qualify for historic tax credits aiding redevelopment projects.

However, a fourth structure was inadvertently omitted from that property transfer, which was considered for inclusion by the commissioners Thursday night via the proposed deed of correction.

And the 3-2 vote seemingly accomplishing this was clarified on Friday by City Attorney Hugh Campbell, who had brought the matter before the board.

In an email sent that day, Campbell explained that since the disposal of municipal-owned property was involved, four votes by the commissioners actually were needed.

“Under the city charter, the city may dispose of property based on the approval of four commissioners without resorting to the statutory procedures for competitive bidding,” the city attorney added. Those procedures include selling property via sealed bids, upset bids or public auction.

“The sole purpose of the deed of correction was to address the fact that Building 4 was not included in last year’s deed due to mistake or inadvertence resulting from confusion about possible uses of the property,” Campbell wrote.

“Nevertheless, the legal effect of the deed of correction is to transfer real property, not merely to correct a typographical or scrivener’s error.”

The bottom line, according to the attorney, is that a 4-1 vote or better was required for the property transfer under municipal guidelines. “That’s in the city charter,” he said Monday. “That’s always been the case.”

Campbell states in his Friday email that “the record should reflect, therefore, that the deed of correction was not approved,” which shows the words “not approved” in bold type.

He acknowledged Monday some possible confusion about the number of votes required for the property transfer — even among the commissioners.

“I sent out the email just to clarify, because I didn’t mention it that night — I just didn’t mention it to the board,” he said of Thursday’s meeting.

“In hindsight, I should have.”

Those voting in favor of the deed of correction were commissioners Shirley Brinkley, Dean Brown and Steve Yokeley, while the board’s Jim Armbrister and Jon Cawley cast the dissenting votes.

That action climaxed a heated discussion among the mayor and commissioners about the property transfer, with Cawley implying that it involved a potential back-door move regarding the Lot 4 location.

The developer for a planned hotel on the former Spencer’s property, bought by the city government in 2014, also is said to be considering the building of the Barter Theatre on a site that would include Lot 4.

Both Cawley and Armbrister have criticized an alleged veil of secrecy that has surrounded this possibility.

An earlier plan calling for the city government to build the theater, and not a private entity, was rejected by state regulators in March.

Vote fell short on Spencer property transfer

By Tom Joyce

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.