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Commissioners vote to purchase Walnut Hill farm 340 acres for $1.6 million.
by Burwell Stark
RALEIGH — Among the various proposals and motions, Monday, Wake County Commissioners voted to purchase in conjunction with the Triangle Land Conservancy (TLC), the 340-acre Walnut Hill Farm located near Shotwell community, in the southern part of Wake County, from the Williamston family for $1.6 million.
Most of the money would be raised through Open Space General Obligation Bonds, with $14,485 being contributed from recreation ordinance fees.
The Williamston family has owned the property for 225 years.
Wake County has been working on acquiring this property for nearly 10 years.
Preserved for future water purity
Chris Snow, director of Open Space and Parks Department for Wake County, led the presentation to the commissioners.
The Walnut Hill property covers a total of 409 acres, with almost 340 in Wake County and the remaining 70 in Johnston County. The Wake County property contains several streams that feed both Marks Creek and the Neuse River. For that reason, the county has sought to purchase and protect the property through the Mark’s Creek Rural Lands Initiative.
The property is adjacent to land owned by N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation and contains a portion of the Mountains-to-the-Sea trail. Additionally, it lies near a portion of Raleigh’s Neuse River Greenway.
The total purchase price is $2.67 million. Along with Wake County, TLC is contributing $285,000 to the purchase. The Clean Water Management Trust Fund is committed to contribute $700,000 and an Ecosystems Enhancement Grant of $80,000 makes up the difference.
Chad Jamison, executive director of the TLC, also spoke at the board meeting.
While Wake County is paying the bulk of the cost, according to the partnership agreement, TLC will “hold title to both the entire property (both counties) and will provide ongoing stewardship for the property.”
As part of the agreement with the family, the land is subject to a Hunter Lease Agreement. The agreement terminates after five years or the death of the lessee.
Long-term, TLC plans to open the property to the public as a “nature preserve, similar to [TLC’s] Horton Grove Nature Preserve north of Durham.” Opening the property to the public also terminates the Hunter Lease Agreement.
Along with the property, but separate from the acquisition, the Williamston family has offered to donate to Wake County a conservation easement, which would protect the property from future development in the event TLC ever decided to sell it. The Williamston family is retaining four acres which include a house and the historic Oak Grove Church.
Prior to Monday’s presentation, the property acquisition was reviewed by the Open Space and Parks Advisory Committee, who in turn, supported acquiring the property. The Wake County Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the acquisition.
The Johnston County portion of the Walnut Hill property will not be purchased using Wake County funds.
Enjoying the ride
The land acquisition was not the only fiscal item on the agenda. Don Willis, Human Services Transportation manager for Wake County, presented the Wake Coordinated Transportation Services (WCTS/TRACS) Locally Coordinated Human Services/Public Transportation Plan for acceptance.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) Public Transportation Division requires all counties to complete a locally coordinated human services/public transportation plan in order to qualify for Targeted Transportation Assistance Program (TTAP) grant funding.
According to the WCTS/TRAC plan, the Targeted Transportation Assistance Program consists of three grants: Elderly Individuals and Individuals with Disabilities, Job Access and Reverse Commute and New Freedom. The TTAP program is targeted because it is specifically focused on certain demographics, namely the elderly, the disabled and the poor.
According to the plan, persons with disabilities constitute 7.2 percent of the Wake County population, persons living under 150 percent of the federal poverty level constitute 18 percent of the county population and persons 60 years of age and over constitute 14 percent of the population.
Additionally, federal grant programs are different from state programs. According to the WCTS/TRAC plan, federal regulations require the plan “identify the transportation needs of individuals with disabilities, older adults, and people with low incomes, provides strategies for meeting those local needs and prioritizes transportation services for funding and implementation.”
The WCTS/TRAC plan meets the state and federal requirements for grant proposals. After Willis’ presentation, the commissioners voted unanimously to approve the plan.
The WCTS/TRAC plan will be in place for grant applications for five years.