The city has hit not a roadblock but a sizable bump in its effort to build a $30 million public parking deck downtown with a Westin Hotel on top of it.
The problem is that an adjacent property owner, Rocky Scarfone, owns two easements through the current parking lot that is slated to be the ground floor of the proposed parking deck.
Apparently the city was unaware that these easements existed when it purchased the land for the parking lot that stretches from East Market Street along Davie Street to February 1 Place.
Scarfone owns the Cone Denim Entertainment Center at 117 South Elm St., and his deed gives him “perpetual right of ingress and egress and regress” to the back of his building. One easement goes from the back of his building east to Davie Street and a second easement goes from the back of his building north toward East Market Street.
The easements evidently do not appear on the deeds for the property purchased by the city, but they are on Scarfone’s deed and have been in place since at least horse and buggy days. One part of the deed for 117 South Elm St. states, “East 128 feet to a point in the annex to the old Vanstory Stables.”
Not only does Scarfone have an easement to the back of his building, he uses it so that bands playing at Cone Denim can park behind the building to load and unload their equipment. With South Elm Street being only two lanes wide, it also makes a huge difference to be able to bring in deliveries through the back.
Scarfone said that he had hired attorney Amiel Rossabi to represent him in the case, so that any comment would have to come from Rossabi. But Scarfone did say, “Everybody is trying to work through it.”
The city has already allocated over $4 million to purchase the land for the parking deck, $2 million to design the deck and $26 million to build it. Building the Westin Hotel, which will front on South Elm Street at the site of the current Elm Street Center, will cost and estimated $35 million. So this is a $65 million public-private development being held up by two easements the city should have discovered before they purchased the land.
What nobody would admit to knowing is how the city could buy a properties downtown for over $2 million and not have the deeds searched to make certain there were no easements, rights of way, encroachments, liens or other legal entanglements.
Nobody with the city would admit that they didn’t know about the easements before purchasing the property, but the fact that the design for the parking deck has been underway without allowing for Scarfone’s legally recorded easements through the property is an indication that the city was surprised to find that they would have to make some accommodation for Scarfone’s legal rights of ingress, egress and regress.
It’s early in the process, so those design adjustments can be made, but how much it will cost remains to be seen. But this is the kind of news that no new property owner wants to receive.
It raises the question for taxpayers: Is the land worth what the city paid, considering that it has two easements across it? The other question is: Just how much is it going to cost the city to settle the issue with Scarfone? By creating an alley, the city will have to give up some parking spaces, which will result in the parking deck producing less revenue for the city.
There was a meeting on Monday, August 28 that involved Scarfone, Rossabi, City Councilmember Mike Barber and City Attorney Tom Carruthers to see if an agreement could be reached.
Downtown Greensboro Inc. President Zack Matheny said he was aware of the problem and had tried to convince Scarfone that bands could load and unload equipment through the front door.
Matheny said that what had to be considered was what was “for the greater good of the community.” He said that the hotel and the parking deck continue to be designed and that they would benefit the entire downtown area, including Scarfone’s businesses.
Carruthers said after Monday’s meeting, “We have identified a rear access for Mr. Scarfone’s property that will run perpendicular to and connect to Market Street that will be 14 feet wide, which is wider than any alleyway he has in his original deed.”
Carruthers added, “I’m not sure that Mr. Scarfone believes this is the best solution. We thought we had solved the problem by this minimum 14 foot wide access, but we’re looking at alternates to see if we can reach a mutually agreeable solution.”
Carruthers said that one of Scarfone’s concerns was that the proposed alley would require buses and trucks to back out on to East Market Street. Under the current conditions, with a large parking lot at the back door, those buses and trucks can turn around.
Barber said, “I think we can get the whole thing sorted out.”
Barber said one solution to the turn-around issue would be to continue the alley all the way through the block to February 1 Place, so that vehicles wouldn’t have to turn around and wouldn’t be stuck if someone pulled a vehicle in behind them.
Barber said he had heard talk of the city using “eminent domain” but added, “Nobody is going to use eminent domain in this case.”
Barber said that the assumption was that the new parking deck and hotel complex would be a huge benefit to all surrounding businesses but that not all downtown businesses see it that way.
Barber said, “We need to accommodate the existing downtown businesses. We want these businesses to be able to function. There can be compatibility issues.”
When asked how the city could miss two easements on a $2 million plus purchase, Barber said, “Maybe the easements weren’t fully evaluated.”
He suggested that while the property itself was properly searched, the surrounding properties were not.
Both Carruthers and Barber seemed convinced that the issue could be worked out, as did Scarfone.
Rossabi was unavailable for comment.