North Wilkesboro commissioners approved the immediate sale of 10 town-owned surplus properties—excluding another that the town mistakenly “sold” to a resident about five years ago—during the board’s regular monthly meeting at the Stone Center on Oct. 6.
The 0.10-acre parking lot at the corner of Hinshaw and Elizabeth streets, across from the Black Cat Station model railroad center (the old Wilkes Art Gallery) was identified as one of the parcels up for sale, with the caveat that it was subject to a “possible ‘adverse possession’ claim.”
The term adverse possession refers to a legal principle that allows trespassers who openly inhabit and improve an otherwise abandoned piece of property to gain title to that property after certain conditions are met.
Adverse possession is often referred to as “squatter’s rights” and, under North Carolina law, an individual is required to occupy an otherwise neglected property publicly for at least 20 years, or seven years with “color of title” (meaning the party has reason to believe they have the right to possess the property).
Jimmy Foster, 85, has a home adjacent to the parking lot, at 1223 Hinshaw Street. He said during the public comments portion of the meeting that his family has taken care of the parking lot for 107 years.
Foster said he signed a contract with the town and thought he had bought the property for $615 in 2015 or 2016, but the town later returned the check and told him the parcel was actually owned by the North Wilkesboro Housing Authority.
“It was in the paper last week that you’re going to sell my parking lot,” said Foster. “I’m hoping you will consider deeding this to us because we’ve been there for so long and we’ve taken care of it. It’s a case of ‘squatters rights’ or ‘rights of possession.’ Otherwise, I’d have no other choice and would have to move (an outbuilding).”
The parcel (ID 1403558) off Hinshaw Street has a tax value of almost $15,000. There is a small outbuilding on the property built in 1980 and appraised at $8,310.
According to deed records, the Town of North Wilkesboro granted the property to the Redevelopment Commission of the Town of North Wilkesboro (which later became the North Wilkesboro Housing Authority) on May 26, 1980.
Commissioner Andrew Palmer said, “If the town made a handshake agreement with (Foster), I would be in favor of investigating giving it to him.” Town Manager Wilson Hooper explained that that parcel statutorily couldn’t be sold at no charge.
Hooper added that if Foster “wants to come in and make a low-ball offer, and you all want to accept that offer, then we can do that. That said, he can be outbid. That offer is still subject to the upset bid process.”
Hooper said he would take the parking lot off the list temporarily until the matter could be further researched by the town’s interim town attorney, Daniel Johnson.
“I would argue that (Foster) using this as his exclusive parking lot for an extended period, and us not getting anything in return such as a lease, (is) unconstitutional,” added Hooper. “One way or another, we need to get this settled.”
The 10 parcels approved for sale are a residual lot off Kensington Drive (parcel ID 1401896), residual lot near Hilltop Park off Kensington Drive (1402501), residual lot off Trogdon Street (1403472); lot near Woodlawn Center off Boston Avenue (1403482), residual lot off Swaim Street (1403497), residual/residential lot off Boston Avenue (1403631), residual/residential lot off Mass Avenue (1403632), residential lot off Odell Street (1404385), lot behind Black Cat Station off Elizabeth Street (1404901) and residential lot/water easement off Damascus Church Road (2200830).
Hooper said the town, starting this week, will advertise the parcels on the town’s website and social media platforms and in the Wilkes Journal-Patriot. Adjacent property owners were notified last week of the sale as a courtesy and be invited to make offers. If those offers are not accepted, they would be sold through the upset bid process, much like last year’s sale of 912 Main Street.
These parcels are town-owned properties that aren’t already being marketed for sale, such as a commercial building at 910 Main Street and three vacant parcels in the town-owned Wilkes Industrial Park off River Road-Liberty Grove Road.
A real estate disposition policy approved by the commissioners at their July 7 meeting established a process by which town-owned real properties may be deemed surplus and sold.
The policy called for Hooper to conduct an inventory of all town-owned properties and assess each one according to criteria in the policy. Properties included aren’t currently used nor are they expected to be used by the town in a 10-year capital plan.