After more than a decade of wrangling over Hillsborough’s dilapidated Colonial Inn, town officials have moved this week to begin the process of acquiring the West King Street historic structure through the process of eminent domain.
The Town Board of Commissioners voted Monday to start the process, which could eventually end with the town paying the inn’s owner, Francis Henry, “just compensation” for the structure. Since 2002, when Henry purchased the 176-year-old inn, the town and the local businessman have been bickering off and on.
Indeed, Hillsborough has sued the former UNC soccer star twice over allegations that he was neglecting the property, which has fallen into disrepair. The town’s latest action on the inn comes after the town fire marshal condemned the property following a report of a fire inside the old building in late July.
“It would be a failure of leadership for this board to wait for something to happen,” town Commissioner Eric Hallman said.
Henry has attempted to raze the property before, although his request to do so was denied by the town’s Historic District Commission, as the property was noted to have historic significance in 2003 by the State Historic Preservation Office.
Henry will have 30 days notice on the process before the town officially files for eminent domain in the Orange County Superior Court, after which he would have 120 days to contest or accept the filing. Henry’s compensation would be determined by an independent appraisal, although a town-commissioned report by the UNC School of Government estimated the Colonial’s fair market value to be about $143,000.
Town officials said, after acquiring the property, they would hope to use a public-private partnership to restore the inn. Renovations are estimated to cost about $3 million.
“The use of eminent domain, we come to it very reluctantly,” said Commissioner Jenn Weaver. “This is not something that should be done thoughtlessly.”