Clayton may buy more park land

ndunn@newsobserver.comJune 2, 2014 

Clayton leaders say they might buy land for another park, a move that could reduce the town’s cash reserves by $1.2 million.

Clayton is working with a nonprofit to buy about 67 acres in the southeast portion of town, in the vicinity of Boling Street and the Cobblestone neighborhood. Town Manager Steve Biggs declined to name the nonprofit because of the ongoing negotiations, but he said the group specializes in preserving open spaces in urban areas.

“We are definitely looking at the possibility of acquiring more park land but don’t have anything finalized,” Biggs said. “We are evaluating now whether we want to purchase it, given the financial approach we would take at this time.”

The town is considering taking $1.2 million from savings to buy the land. A town’s savings, known also as its fund balance, is the running tab of revenue after expenses. Most auditors look to a town’s fund balance as an indicator of its overall financial health.

The park-land purchase would shrink Clayton’s available savings from $5.9 million to $4.7 million, or from 30 percent to 24 percent of town spending. The Clayton Town Council agreed years ago to maintain an available fund balance equal to at least 20 percent of town expenditures.

A study published last year by Sage Design said the south side of town is ripe for parks and recreation development. Councilman Butch Lawter said the need is there.

“The land would probably sit there awhile until we get some money to do something with the park, but it’s not going to get any cheaper – the costs are just going to go up,” Lawter said.

The town’s current parks include:

•  Clayton Community Center and Clayton Community Park, both on the west side of town on Amelia Church Road. The Community Center includes a gym with a suspended walking track, classrooms and administrative offices. The park has tennis courts, athletic fields, a picnic shelter, amphitheater, trails and two playgrounds.

•  East Clayton Community Park on the east side of town, on Glen Laurel Road. Funding for the nearly $2 million park, completed last year, came in part from a $4 million bond issue voters approved in 2008. It includes athletic fields, a walking trail and a picnic pavilion. The park is across the road from East Clayton Dog Park.

•  Municipal, Legend and All-Star parks, all on the northwest side of town. Municipal and All-Star parks have basketball courts and picnic shelters, while Legend park has a ball field and mountain-bike trail.

The town is already set to buy 39 acres near the Neuse River and combine it with other land to form a nature-study area, dog park and amphitheater on the north side of town. Clayton hopes to develop the land – once home to a DuPont agrochemical research farm – through a Brownfields Agreement, in which the state would absolve the town of future liability so long as Clayton cleans up the land for park use. DuPont has said it will remove the tainted soil for the town, which will pay the company $600,000 for the land.

During a budget work session on Wednesday, Biggs told the Town Council he wants some direction by June 2, when the council will hold a public hearing on the coming year’s budget.

Councilman Bob Satterfield said he does not want the town to be in the business of buying land and waiting years to develop it. However, he said he understands that the land might not be available in future years.

“They aren’t making any more land,” Clayton Mayor Jody McLeod said. “I’d rather see us invest in banking it.”

Councilman Art Holder agreed. “We are going to get criticism for it,” he said, “but we are also going to get praise for it for looking ahead.”

Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104

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