OMT One Man's Trash...from Norman Leahy

Thursday, March 30, 2006 :::

A Personal Look at an Eminent Doman Case

Earlier this month, I noted an ongoing eminent domain case in Cumberland County. Below, Mary Meeks, who along with her husband owns the disputed property, responds to a series of questions I posed regarding this matter. Here's what she has to say:

Let's get a little background on this case. When did all of this start? How did you go from buying a vacant school that didn't meet current building codes and that the county couldn't afford to repair to having the superintendent show up one day to reclaim ownership?

Around Sept 2001. We heard that the County was going to auction off the Luther P Jackson School by sealed bids. The announcement was put into the paper for one month in the Farmville Herald. We asked to preview the property and was able to walk thru the entire buildings. We had told the Cumberland County Supervisors that our intentions was to purchase the property and convert to apartments. Mr Willis the Superintendent and James Thornton, the assistant, said they thought that was a good idea. The school was in deplorable conditions. It had sat vacant for about 10 years to my knoweldge with no repairs. The County was using one section as office buildings.

The ad was put in the paper and we put a bid in for $110,000. Thinking we would not get it. The assessment at that time for the entire school was $2,800,000. I had gotten the assessment from the county office. This assessment had not changed since 1999. (I do not have the assessment infront of me at this time but the year will be close. I will check to make sure when I get to the office).

Our bid was accepted. It was published in the Farmville Herald. When we heard that it was accepted we had to meet with the then County Supervisors. They questioned us what we were going to do with the school. My husband and I said. Convert to one and maybe some two bedroom apartments. We heard there was a need for apartments and we own a Century 21 Meeks Realty, Inc Real Estate Company and we get many calls for apartment rentals. We told them we would like to have the gym available for the public and the auditorium the same. They gym was in good condition but the auditorium was horrible. The ceiling had leaked for years and the stage floor was ruined and trash everywhere. Ceiling tiles down, no heat. There were broken windows through out the buildings about 50. Roof leaks every where. They agreed they would accept our offer and we begain the deed work. We stated we wanted in the deed that we could have apartments. We did not want any future problems. Which problems is all we got.

At that time the school was occupying one section and we said they could stay and rent from us and the school could use the gym free if they paid for the heat. They said for about 6 to 8 months. The funny thing is after they moved out We rented this section to a church. We get a call from the building inspector and said we needed a Co. Certificate of Occupancy. I said what? They said it did not meet code. Now the school had been occupanying for several years. I asked them what I must I do to make this meet code since the County had not done it for years. Which we did.

It took 2 years for the county to close on the property. They never had clear title.

Were there any irregularities in your assessments before and after this case began? My understanding is that you had a very high assessment in a previous year that went down substantially the next -- right before the county decided to recalim the property. Is that true?

There is a difference in assessments. As I said for several years it was $2,800,000 when they wanted to sell the property. Now that they want to purchase it is assessed at $600,000 and we have improved and have 5 tenants and the community using the gym.

If the school system says they only want to use some of the classrooms for a short period of time, why do they want to seize the entire property? Do they have other plans it they haven't publicly disclosed?

We do not know why they want the entire property and are only going to use a part of it for a short period of time. We have offered to upgrade and rent the section they are interested in. They will not consider. We figure it would cost the county about $36,000 to rent for 9 months instead of the millions it will now cost. I am sure this project will be around 5 to10 million dollars.

Where does this matter stand today? Have there been any new developments since this story first broke?

Today we are working on going to jury. I think. This is new to me. I will be getting the property appraised. The County had an appraisor come in for them and had the property appraised for $200,000. Go figure. I am sure Cumberland County citizens would like this appraisor to be the assessor. My assessment is the only one in the county that I know of that has dropped $2,000,000.

Thru the newspapers, and email many people have heled us get this story out. This is about everyones rights. This is very unfair. We are having a Rally, April 1,2006, at Cumberland Court House between 10:00 am to 12:00 noon We will have petitions to sign against the new ruling on Eminent Domain. The public must do something to change the decision that was passed down. My husband and I are going to form a pac to raise money to help other people in their fight. We will not use any money collected for our fight. The small person has a difficult time fighting the big guys.The public is hearing about Eminent Domain Abuse now everyday. It is like a wild fire and how do we put it out. We and everyone else going thru this situations appreciate everyones concerns and especially prayers.

::: posted by Norman Leahy at 3/30/2006 3 comments


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