City opts to lease industrial park land

By Tom Joyce -

Mount Airy officials have decided to continue leasing an 18-acre site at a city industrial park, after dabbling with the idea of selling the property.

It is located at Piedmont Triad West Corporate Park off U.S. 601, where four industries are now located with another in the works, along with two commercial tenants.

Land in the industrial park also has had an agricultural use, which involved the site being leased to Kester Sink during the past 10 years for crop production. That arrangement was forged in 2008, including an initial one-year lease that was renewed annually for nine years afterward.

The lease expired in June, and Sink informed city officials that he did not wish to renew it, according to information presented at a Mount Airy Board of Commissioners meeting in June.

Discussion then revealed that three other individuals expressed an interest in the property, but no formal proposals had been presented.

The commissioners decided to advertise for proposals and have the matter brought back to them for consideration.

As a result of that process, the board voted 5-0 at its last meeting on July 19 to approve a new lease with Wesley Johnson of Johnson Farm Operations Inc. Johnson, who owns and farms 97 acres of adjacent property located to the east across Stewarts Creek, plans to grow corn, soybeans and grain on the city’s land.

Johnson’s lease is for an initial one-year period beginning in January, which is automatically renewable for up to nine years. He has agreed to pay $100 per acre for the use of the farmland, a total of $1,800 annually.

Sale debated

Before the deal was sealed, Commissioner Jim Armbrister suggested another option.

“If we have land to lease, why not sell it?” Armbrister said, “turn it into a money-making source.”

It has been suggested recently that the municipality should perhaps consider selling some of its vast holdings, which a recent report showed amounts to more than 900 acres in various locations. The purpose of that would be to boost revenues for Mount Airy, which recently implemented a 25-percent increase in property taxes of 12 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

During the same meeting last week when the lease was approved, Armbrister voted against the city buying more land on East Pine Street to provide additional space for public works operations based there, a measure that was approved 3-2. Armbrister lobbied for using property already owned by the municipality.

However, when weighing the idea of selling the industrial park land, Commissioner Jon Cawley said he didn’t think it would generate $1,800 in yearly property taxes, the sum of the lease proceeds.

Cawley said that all things considered, the lease with Johnson represents “the best business use” of the land on a long-term basis.

One factor is that the property is bottomland located in a floodplain, which makes it unsuitable for building and not greatly marketable as a result.

The city government has no need for the land at present.

In response to a question from Armbrister, City Manager Barbara Jones said the agreement contains an exit provision allowing the municipality to regain the rights to the property if some need does emerge.

ETJ issue postponed

Also last week, a scheduled discussion on Mount Airy’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) zoning authority was postponed.

This was done at the request of Commissioner Shirley Brinkley, who had asked that the matter be placed on the agenda.

The ETJ provision in local regulations gives Mount Airy zoning control one mile beyond the city limits in all directions.

Its presence has sparked controversy over the years and vigorous debates among city commissioners about possibly eliminating the ETJ provision, but it has remained in place.

“We have discussed this in depth more than once,” Brinkley said during the last meeting, when she asked that the scheduled ETJ discussion be tabled for now, which was done in a 5-0 vote.

“I just don’t see any need for continuing to jab this in the gut,” Brinkley said.

Other than citing the long length of last week’s meeting that listed the ETJ issue as the last agenda item, Brinkley wasn’t totally clear about why she wanted to postpone the matter.

She did indicate a willingness to obtain bullet-point information showing the pros and cons of the ETJ zoning for a possible future discussion.

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.