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    County recommends board stick with approved study of hospital property's future

    By From staff reports,

    2024-04-13

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    Pasquotank officials are recommending county commissioners stick with an already approved plan to proceed with a $97,500 study by an independent entity to determine the best use of the Sentara Albemarle Medical Center property once it’s no longer used as a hospital.

    A pre-development feasibility assessment of the SAMC property, which is to be conducted by UNC Chapel Hill Board of Governors’ Development Finance Initiative, was agreed to by commissioners on a 4-3 vote at the board’s March 18 meeting.

    But the SAMC pre-development feasibility assessment is again on the agenda for commissioners’ Monday night meeting as an “old business” item, and includes another recommendation from county staff to approve the study.

    The agenda also contains what appears to be a suggestion that the study by DFI might not go forward if commissioners remain divided over whether it should happen.

    “Both DFI and Pasquotank County staff agree that moving forward with a very involved, 12-month project that will require multiple related votes in the future, with a 4-3 vote, is not in the best interest of the county,” the agenda states.

    Three commissioners — Sam Davis, Sean Lavin and Jonathan Meads — voted against hiring DFI and proceeding with the feasibility study at the March 18 meeting. Their objections appeared centered mostly on timing; at least two said they wanted the board to take more time before committing to performing a study of how the SAMC property should be used.

    The agenda lays out some of the reasons why county staff still believe hiring DFI now to perform the study of the SAMC property’s future use is the right move.

    “DFI would provide objective, unbiased recommendations to aid in protecting the interests of the county,” the document states.

    Maintaining the county-owned hospital property after it’s no longer used by SAMC and turned back over to Pasquotank — which the county envisions happening by Feb. 1, 2026 — will get expensive, the county said. According to the agenda document, the preliminary cost estimate of keeping the property under county ownership after it’s released by the hospital is $439,785 a year.

    “Completing the Pre-Development Feasibility Assessment now will help reduce the amount of time the county retains ownership of the property and incurs the maintenance costs,” the agenda states.

    Following DFI processes also would give the county a “Development Agreement” that ensures the purchaser uses the SAMC property in a manner “that is in the best long-term interest of the Road Street corridor and the county,” the county said.

    Earlier in the agenda, the county noted that the current hospital’s closing, which will follow SAMC’s move-out from the property at 1144 N. Road Street starting in August 2025, “will negatively impact the Road Street corridor.” The county argues that private development of the 74.9-acre hospital property, only 35 acres of which is developable because of wetlands, “would help offset the loss” of business activity on Road Street once SAMC moves into its new facility off Thunder Road and Halstead Boulevard Extended in fall 2025.

    The agenda document argues against hiring a commercial real estate broker to sell the hospital property for the county, noting the county would give up control of the property under that option. The document notes losing that control could have unforeseen ramifications for College of The Albemarle, which is next door to the current hospital.

    “A buyer could convert the property into a use that is not conducive to College of The Albemarle operations or speculatively purchase the property and do nothing (with it,) waiting for a change in market conditions,” the document states.

    And because a direct sale of the property would trigger the state-required upset bid process, the sale of the then-former hospital could take longer, sticking the county with the bill to continue maintaining it.

    The county also points out that, under the upset bid process, commissioners could choose to reject all bids if a purchaser “with a questionable reputation” was the buyer. But the board couldn’t then sell the property to a lower bidder.

    DFI specializes in consulting local governments that are considering large-scale private development projects, like the kind that could result after SAMC closes in 2025 to move into the new Sentara Albemarle Regional Health Campus. The $97,500 needed to pay for the DFI study will come from unbudgeted earned interest while the study will take 12 months to complete, the county has said.

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