After a closed session discussion during its Aug. 20 meeting, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to buy a pair of properties along Haywood Road in Dillsboro as part of a plan to remake the county’s existing Green Energy Park.
Following a 90-day due diligence period, the county will pay $325,000 to purchase a pair of properties currently owned by Manuel Cooper and located about half a mile east of the Green Energy Park entrance. The contract includes $3,250 in earnest money. The properties have a combined tax value of $278,700 on 3.67 acres, with annual property taxes totaling $1,059 for Jackson County and $585 for the Town of Dillsboro.
The purpose of the purchase is to provide a new home for the staffed recycling center currently located at the top of the Green Energy Park property. The Green Energy Park is home to the now-defunct Jackson County landfill and an array of artist studios fueled with methane produced from the decaying garbage, as well as some other fuel sources. The park offers blacksmithing, glassblowing and pottery studios.
But if a plan the county has been chewing on since March 2018 is successful, the property will eventually become a mini campus that in addition to artisan studios will feature a new county animal rescue center, a dog park, a walking trail and event space, as well as an innovation center and makers space operated by Western Carolina University.
However, the recycling center’s location — at the top of the property, requiring anyone using it to drive through the entire campus — was an impediment to the plan.
“It really comes down for this master plan to work, we needed to relocate this traffic to a more convenient site,” County Manager Don Adams said in an interview after the Aug. 20 vote.
The original master plan called for moving the recycling center down to the front of the property, right along Haywood Road, but doing so would require building a $500,000 retaining wall. Commissioners didn’t like that idea. In fact, while in general they have been quite supportive of the Green Energy Park concept, the $12 million price tag of the original master plan has been a sticking point. The county has been looking for creative ways to execute the project without having to foot such a massive bill.
In May, the projected cost fell to $7.56 million after commissioners decided to cut the size of the planned innovation center from 17,000 to 13,000 square feet and to forgo the half-million dollar retaining wall for the recycling center. That new estimate did not include a projected cost of purchasing property for a new recycling center location.
The county has already done a substantial amount of research on the property to ensure that it can be used for the intended purpose. Adams said he’s had conversations with the railroad, which abuts the property, and with the N.C. Department of Transportation as well as with zoning officials. Thus far, everything has indicated that the recycling center can go there. While under contract, the county will complete surveys and title work.
Over the course of that 90-day due diligence period, Adams will be working on some other important Green Energy Park-related tasks — namely, the animal shelter.
The goal is to go to bid on that project sometime in spring 2020 and then award the contract in early summer. It’s expected to take about a year to build out.
“I would hope for this (recycling center) to be moved out before a contractor comes in and starts building anything,” he said.
No estimate is available for the cost of moving the recycling center, said Adams. However, the owner currently uses the property to store heavy equipment and the land is not expected to require any significant grading, though part of the property will need to be used to handle drainage. The cost will be mostly in pavement, as the recycling center equipment is all mobile and unattached to the ground. Because the property is so narrow, the recycling center will likely be designed as a one-way facility, Adams said.
Right now, he’s working on schematics and cost estimates for the animal rescue center, for which the master plan used a ballpark figure of $3 million. The building will go on the existing concrete pad at the Green Energy Park office. Architects and engineers are working to determine whether the existing shell and footings can be used in the final design. The concrete pad will have to go, though.
“You have to have drainage in the floor, and you also have to have the floor sloped to that drainage, so by the time you get in and cut everything up and move everything and so forth, you might as well just pull everything out, put your drainage in and repour the concrete,” he said.