06/10/08 — Right-of-way question stalls Lofts

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Right-of-way question stalls Lofts

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on June 10, 2008 1:54 PM

A right-of-way problem involving the North Carolina Railroad Co. is holding up the Borden Lofts project but local officials are hoping that a bill introduced in state Legislature will alleviate the problem and allow the renovation of the old Borden Manufacturing Co. into a luxury apartment complex.

The historic brick manufacturing buildings are encroaching onto a 200-foot right-of-way granted to the North Carolina Railroad Co., giving the railroad the authority to say what can be done on that portion of the property.

The bill, introduced in the House, has met initial approval by committee.

If it becomes law, the measure, HB2659, would direct the railroad to transfer mill building encroachments for use in the historic mill rehabilitation project and would prohibit the railroad from removing or demolishing any of the historic mill building that encroaches on its right-of-way.

"Even though the buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places and were constructed in the late 1800s, the North Carolina Railroad's charter from the state of North Carolina that granted a 200-foot right-of-way pre-dated the construction," project developer Tom Webb said. "We have tried to negotiate a permanent easement with the North Carolina Railroad, but were only offered a temporary license that could require the removal of the parts of the buildings that are located in their charter.

"The inability to acquire clear title to the property and the threat to the historic buildings for demolition, which would result in the loss of both federal and state tax credits, forced us to stop all future work on this project until the problem with the railroad is corrected."

All of the buyers who had reserved a loft have either been refunded their reservation deposit or have been advised that it is available for disbursement, Webb added.

For now, the success of the project is contingent on the passage of the bill.

Reps. Louis Pate, Van Braxton and Larry Bell are co-sponsoring the bill, which states that "The Board of Directors of the North Carolina Railroad Company shall transfer by permanent easement or sale property within its corridor that is occupied by structures of the historic Borden Manufacturing Company complex in Goldsboro for fair market value for use in the restoration and rehabilitation of the site.

It adds that the transfer is contingent on the project being completed with five years of the date of the passage of the bill and orders that the railroad "shall not remove or demolish any structure in Goldsboro that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is located within its right-of-way, and is part of an historic mill complex."

Pate said that, historically, mills were built near the railroad tracks to facilitate the movement of raw materials and manufactured goods. Few could have foreseen that they would one day go out of business and be turned into other uses.

"I'm sure that's what happened in the Borden situation," Pate said.

Pate said he is strongly supportive of the project.

"It's a big financial gain for the community. We just need to have the cooperation of the railroad," Pate said.

Pate said he understands that if the bill fails it likely would put an end to the project but he said he is optimistic that it will be approved and that the railroad will cooperate.

"I think they can reach an agreement and go on with the project," Pate said. "Everyone local is behind it. The railroad, I really haven't talked with them, but they are aware of the project and what the project means so we want them to allow this."

Webb said he appreciates the representatives sponsoring the bill.

"Without their tireless efforts this project would not have been delayed, it would have been canceled," Webb said.

Even if the bill is passed, the project has been set back. When it was announced, officials were optimistic that construction could begin in March, and lofts would be ready to move into by December. Now, they aren't sure when construction will begin.

"Once this problem with the N.C. Railroad is cleared up, and the property is acquired, we will have to start the project from the beginning," Webb said. "We have lost the momentum that we had build up over the past year, and it will take some time to start our marketing and development efforts again.

-Staff Writer Matthew Whittle contributed to this report.