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County votes to sell former health department building

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Pasquotank County commissioners voted Monday to sell the former health department building on Cedar Street, closing the door on Elizabeth City's plans to use it as a homeless shelter.

In a 6-0 vote Monday afternoon, commissioners directed county staff to put the property up for sale; absent was Commissioner Barry Overman.

County Manager Sparty Hammett said Tuesday the county hasn't set a price on the building yet, which is nearly 11,000 square feet, nor is it employing a broker to sell the property. Interested buyers have called the county about the property, he also noted.

Commissioners' decision is a setback for the Elizabeth City Council, which in November requested the county lease part of the building for a women's shelter. The council's hope was to cheaply renovate part of the building and bring in a nonprofit to run the shelter, replacing a closed, defunct shelter on Herrington Road.

Commissioners and Hammett agreed in December they weren't interested in leasing only part of the building, arguing it couldn't be easily divided and possible tenants wouldn't want to share space with the shelter. The matter has gone back and forth in city and county meetings since.

Last week, councilors delayed action on the lease one more time, in hopes commissioners would offer better terms. In case they didn't, councilors also directed city staff to look for alternate sites for shelters.

Notably, Councilors Darius Horton and Gabriel Adkins have also called for discussing the lease directly in a city-county meeting.

Though the city still has interest in the building, Hammett recommended withdrawing the lease Monday. He reported the council didn't act on the lease last week, or in a meeting last month, and he recommended selling it.

Asked about councilors' desire to negotiate lease terms, Hammett said commissioners discussed the lease in detail in December, and have been clear on their position.

He also said, “bottom line, the building's just not a good fit” for a homeless shelter.

Responding to the county's decision, City Manager Rich Olson said city staff continue researching other properties that could serve as a homeless shelter.

Councilors had asked Olson to look into tax-foreclosed houses the city owns that could become shelters; Olson said only one such property might be viable. He also said city staff are looking at non-residential properties for a shelter as well.

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