Is there any chance N.C. State University won’t sell that 159-acre tract of land next to the Entertainment and Sports Arena?

In a word, no, Vice Chancellor George Worsley told a citizens’ meeting last week.

Local residents who turned out at the West Raleigh Citizens’ Advisory Committee (CAC) implored Worsley to save the land from the tender mercies of development. But the vice chancellor was more interested in talking about what the proceeds will bring–enough money, he estimates, to buy 1,300 acres of farmland throughout the state and a seven-acre addition to the university’s arboretum in Raleigh. “Some people call it a sale,” Worsley said. “We see it as a swap.”

The university expects a minimum price of $14 million to be set. Worsley said that while “several parties” have asked about buying the land in the past, he doesn’t know who’ll bid on it now or what they’ll want to build.

Apparently he doesn’t want to know, either, because he turned aside suggestions that N.C. State develop the land itself (as it’s doing with the Centennial Campus property), or else make a sale contingent on what a developer would do with it. Nor was Worsley sympathetic to pleas that the university put restrictive covenants on the land before selling–to ensure, for example, that nothing would be built within 300 feet of Richland Creek or Richland Lake. “I hear what you’re saying,” Worsley responded. “I can’t make that kind of commitment to you.”

Generally, the law requires construction to stay 50 feet from the water. Tighter restrictions would, of course, depress the sale price by putting parts of the tract off-limits. If the sale goes through as planned, somebody–the Triangle Land Conservancy, perhaps, or the city of Raleigh–will have to try to buy an easement from the developer to protect land around the streams. Once the land is sold to a developer, the asking price for an easement will go sky-high.

Folks at the meeting said N.C. State’s reputation is already mud–literally–because of damage done when the arena was built. Construction crews, ignoring water-quality laws, pushed their dirt into one of Richland’s feeder streams. Worsley agreed that was bad, but pointed out that the university didn’t build the arena; a state authority did.

Worsley said he couldn’t speculate about what future development on this tract would do to the water quality of Richland Creek or the university-owned Schenck Forest, which is downstream from it. He’s an accountant, he said, not an environmental expert. But he will be calling the shots, up to the point when N.C. State’s board of trustees is asked to approve his plan.

With Gov. Hunt promising to save 1 million acres of open space in North Carolina, residents have been peppering the local newspaper with letters suggesting he start with the N.C. State property. But Hunt, who has the power to block the sale, so far is supporting the “swap.”