Lumberton City Council debates marketing contract for historic fire station

By Sarah Willets - [email protected]

LUMBERTON — By the end of the month, the Lumberton City Council will decide if it wants to continue a contract with Preservation NC to market and sell the historic former fire station downtown.

Council members discussed the contract during their Monday meeting, but decided to consult the Robeson County Partnership for Children before making a final decision. The organization had negotiated with Preservation NC to buy the building, but talks have stalled.

A phone poll will be taken before July 31 when council members will vote whether to end the contract, with the hope that the Partnership for Children will purchase the building. If no action is taken by the end of the month, it will automatically renew.

Preservation NC has been working to sell the building, which formerly housed City Hall and the Lumberton Fire Department, since 2013. According to City Manager Wayne Horne, the organization has shown the building to about 15 or 20 prospective buyers, some of which have expressed serious interest, but none of those deals went through.

“For two years we’ve heard the same story. They come up here with prospective buyers and they don’t do it,” said Councilman Leon Maynor. Built in 1917, the building is listed on Preservation NC’s website for $39,000.

Maynor has served as chair of the Partnership for Children’s board and said leadership there have found Preservation NC difficult to work with.

Councilmen Erich Hackney and Leroy Rising voted against a motion to settle the matter in a phone poll.

Rising, a real estate agent, said he has shown the building to several clients and wanted to see it utilized. The city hoped Preservation NC could find a private investor who could take advantage of tax credits to revamp the building and ultimately create tax revenue for the city.

“I would rather have the opportunity to keep it with Preservation NC and not lose prospective buyers,” Rising said.

Hackney said he opposed taking a phone poll because the public would not be involved. It’s unclear when the poll will be taken.

The council also voted not to rezone a property on Glendale Avenue to so that it can continue to be used as a boarding house. The property had been grandfathered in when it was rezoned for manufacturing but the previous tenant lost their license to operate a rest home there and owner Marlita Moujahed had to apply for rezoning.

It was the second time council members reviewed Moujahed’s request. During its May meeting, it sent her rezoning and conditional-use applications back to the Planning Board for further review. Both times the Planning Board recommended that the requests be denied. The conditional-use permit request was not heard Monday because the rezoning was already voted down.

Ten people spoke during a public hearing, including Moujahed.

Neighbors and tenants who spoke in favor of the rezoning at both meetings said the home provides housing for those who have fallen on hard financial times. Residents who spoke against the rezoning voiced concerns about their safety and home values, and questioned whether tenants were being monitored sufficiently. They cited 911 calls, which Moujahed refuted, and interactions with tenants.

Council members at the end of the meeting took turns commending Lumberton’s emergency responders, particularly Police Chief Mike McNeill, for their work.

In other business, the council:

— Approved the following designations of Community Revitalization Funds: $400 to the Wycliffe East Homeowners Association for a Community Day; $750 for the Parkview Activity Center’s summer basketball program; $200 for the McCormick Chapel Youth Program; $400 for Community Day in Precinct 5; $150 for Community Watch in Precinct 5; $1,050 to Black Girls’ Training Camp, a summer camp emphasizing life skills for black girls in high school; and $2,000 for the Lumberton Softball Association for new uniforms and helmets.

— Approved rezoning for two properties on Wintergreen Drive near Corporate Drive for construction of a five-story hotel. The applicant, Jim Shah, plans to operate a Holiday Inn Express there.

— Approved a $20,500 agreement with CBHF Engineers to create engineering documents needed to bid out the installation of the central air system at Bill Sapp Recreation Center.

— Scheduled a public hearing for Aug. 8 on annexing a property in the Amberdale subdivision, which is off Meadow Road.

By Sarah Willets

[email protected]

Sarah Willets can be reached at 901-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.

Sarah Willets can be reached at 901-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.

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