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Onslow County buys Harry Brown horse farm for $1.25 million

Former state Sen. Harry Brown was a top budget writer and Senate majority leader.

Former state Sen. Harry Brown was a high price range author and Senate majority chief.

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For $1.25 million, Onslow County on North Carolina’s coast is getting almost 155 acres of land full with a horse farm, marriage ceremony venue, ponds stocked with fish, rental cabins and loads of room for trails for joggers, bikers and horses.

The man getting that cash from taxpayers is a strong politician.

Some locally say that raises purple flags — along with complaints that the county isn’t in a position to correctly preserve its current parks and seaside entry factors, even with out taking over this new expense.

Former state Sen. Harry Brown, who can be the previous president of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, owns the farm. He retired from politics final yr, selecting to not run for reelection in 2020. But for the final decade he had been some of the highly effective individuals within the state. He was a high state price range author in addition to the Senate majority chief — only a step faraway from Senate chief Phil Berger.

In March he approached his hometown Onslow County commissioners with a proposal to promote his farm, officers introduced beforehand. A number of weeks later, on Monday, they closed the deal. Brown is a Republican, as are all seven of the commissioners. They voted 5-2 to approve the sale.

“I have visited every park that we have in Onslow County,” mentioned Commissioner Walter Scott, who voted in opposition to it. “We are not adequately funding the repairs and upkeep of what we’ve got.”

But Commissioner Mark Price, who voted for it, mentioned the county typically will get criticized for not doing sufficient to enhance individuals’s high quality of life. Adding alternatives for outside recreation — not simply strolling and biking however horseback using, fishing, canoeing, concert events and extra — is strictly what that is meant to do, he mentioned.

“I think if this sale was not connected to the name of Harry Brown, it would not have garnered the opposition,” Price mentioned.

Around a dozen individuals attended a public listening to at 11 a.m. Monday to talk about the sale, none in assist. In an interview afterward, Brown mentioned he by no means imagined the deal can be controversial.

He mentioned if he had offered the land to a developer he in all probability might’ve made double what the county simply paid him.

“I was going to just sell it, to be honest,” Brown mentioned. “But I offered them a deal that was for much less than what it was worth, to do a favor. … Because here in Onslow County we don’t have enough parks, to be quite honest.”

However, some at Monday’s assembly questioned whether or not the county authorities needs to be competing with personal companies — specifically horse boarding farms and marriage ceremony venues, each of that are on Brown’s land and which the county continues to maintain working.

The deal “could potentially be a death knell for my client’s business and other businesses similarly situated in the county,” mentioned Jay Salsman, a lawyer for the Rustic Barn at Half Moon, an area marriage ceremony venue.

“It goes against our fundamental values and beliefs as Republicans,” mentioned Commissioner Robin Knapp, who joined Scott in voting in opposition to the deal. “…We need to eliminate that perception that we are in competition with private industry.”

Knapp additionally criticized his fellow commissioner Royce Bennett, a Realtor who has enterprise dealings with Brown, for not recusing himself. Bennett had the county legal professional verify that it was not necessary for him to recuse himself, then voted in favor of the acquisition.

According to a overview of Onslow County tax information, the property is value roughly what the county paid for it. But Bennett mentioned a personal appraiser not too long ago valued the land increased, at over $2 million.

“Sometimes I think maybe Harry regrets that he offered to sell it to us for $1.25 million,” he mentioned.

After the commissioners voted to purchase the property, in addition they voted to ban alcohol from being served at occasions on web site. In addition to being consistent with county coverage for different parks, they mentioned it additionally signaled their need to not compete with different marriage ceremony venues within the space, since many weddings do serve alcohol.

“This is going to let these businesses know we are not in competition with them,” Commissioner Tim Foster mentioned.

Around a dozen individuals got here to the commissioners’ assembly Monday to talk about the deal. No one supported it.

“To continue with this purchase would be like you, the commissioners, are not listening to the citizens of this county but to the owners of the farm, the Browns,” mentioned Debbie Woleslagle, an area house owner.

The North Topsail Beach mayor and different city officers attended the assembly, against county leaders spending this cash when a county-owned parking zone and concession stand on the seaside of their city has remained half-destroyed and unusable for almost three years, attributable to harm from Hurricane Florence in 2018.

The cash is coming from a particular fund meant for use on tourism-generating initiatives.

“A horse farm is not going to add significantly to tourism in the county,” North Topsail Beach Alderman Mike Benson informed the commissioners. “The economic return from North Topsail Beach is over $25 million a year to the county. …. Why can’t you support one of the big economic drivers in your county?”

Under the Dome

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Related tales from Raleigh News & Observer

Will Doran studies on North Carolina politics, with a give attention to state staff and companies. In 2016 he began The News & Observer’s fact-checking partnership, PolitiFact NC, and earlier than that he reported on native governments across the Triangle. Contact him at [email protected] or (919) 836-2858.



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