The Wake County Board of Commissioners, sick of the fallout from January’s vote to sell a contentious parcel of land in the Crooked Creek neighborhood to the highest bidder, might just give it away to Fuquay-Varina instead, eating the $4 million the county paid to acquire the property for a park just a few months earlier.
That way, the former golf course can still be preserved as open space, as area residents want, but not on the county’s dime, which the current board majority thinks is irresponsible, given the county’s other needs.
Everybody wins, right?
Commissioners Jessica Holmes and Greg Ford say this was the plan all along—they never wanted to sell the land to developers, but they had to list it as surplus so they could offer it to the school system first before turning it over to the town. But some park supporters believe the commission’s majority caved to public pressure.
A small group has taken their outrage to another level. A package sent to Ford’s house two weeks ago exploded rainbow glitter in his eight-year-old daughter’s face, getting it in her eyes. After flushing her eyes out in the sink, Ford’s husband discovered a note: “Glitter is very difficult to clean up. Good luck cleaning up this as well as your bad decisions.”
Police are investigating the incident. Ford says he also received a threatening email and been the target of homophobia online. While such vitriol hasn’t been common, Ford says he hopes the deal will put an end to the personal attacks.
A resolution planned for Monday would begin negotiations to transfer the 143-acre former golf course to Fuquay-Varina. The $4 million the county spent to buy the land in June—in a 4–3 vote whose majority included two commissioners, John Burns and Erv Portman, who had just lost their primary reelection campaigns—is a small fraction of the investment that would be required to develop the land into a park.
The deal was orchestrated by the new majority that voted to sell the land, Holmes says, which in addition to her and Ford also included Commissioners Vicki Adamson and James West.
“The key word here is balance,” she says. “We’re being responsive to the Fuquay community and our community that appreciates the value of open space, while at the same time not committing to the twenty-one million dollars that it would take to transition this property into a county park and also not taking on the indefinite cost of open space.”
While Ford says it would have been great to recoup the $4 million, “we feel this is the best way to resolve the situation and give that control to local residents to decide what to do with the property.”
Commissioners Sig Hutchinson and Matt Calabria—who voted to acquire the land last year and against selling it last month—had been trying to hammer out a deal of their own, but it’s not yet ready. Calabria says giving the land to Fuquay-Varina would be “a big step in the right direction.” The county could retain a conservation easement on the property to ensure the town doesn’t turn around and sell the property to a developer and pocket the cash, Calabria says.
But, he points out, Fuquay-Varina won’t have the money to turn the land into a park for many years. “It will probably lay fallow for several years before it is developed,” he says. “Citizens shouldn’t expect anything to happen quite yet.”
For park supporters, this is still a win, as it spares the land from developers.
“Evidently, the public shaming worked,” says former Wake County parks director David Carter. “If Fuquay wants to step up to the plate, that’s great.”
Officials from the town could not be reached for comment.