Just Because You Have a Deed, Doesn’t Mean You Own the Land

By John Hammer

The best part of the Greensboro City Council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 19, came at the end.

It may not have been the most significant action taken, but it was certainly the most interesting, proving that even the most routine real estate transaction can be made interesting by people.

The item on the agenda was the formal transfer of some open space and flood plain from the Starmount Company to the City of Greensboro.

The 7.8 acres at 605 Way Cross Dr. in Starmount Forest was dedicated to the city in 1979 and has both storm sewer and sanitary sewer running through it, but the city had never formally accepted the dedicated land.

This is about as mundane as a real estate transaction can get – formally accepting some land that was dedicated to the city over 30 years ago, but it was challenged by an attorney, Donavan Hylarides of Wyatt Early Harris Wheeler, on behalf of CTC Land Company LLC, which is claiming ownership of the parcel.

From the correspondence, it appears that CTC Land Company had a retired officer of Starmount Company, Frank Minton, sign a document deeding the land to CTC for no consideration, which means CTC didn’t pay a dime for 7.8 acres in Starmount Forest.

City Councilmember Mike Barber was clearly amused by the assertions of Hylarides, who never mentioned the name of his law firm, and was claiming that because a retired secretary of Starmount Corporation signed a deed giving 7.8 acres to his client it was legally binding.

Barber asked if it wasn’t the case that Minton was living in a retirement location and fished three days a week.

Hylarides said he didn’t know where Minton lived or what his fishing schedule was but that he was listed with the North Carolina secretary of state’s office as an officer of Starmount and had the “apparent authority” to sign a deed on behalf of that company.

City Attorney Tom Carruthers noted that there were in fact two deeds. In one, CTC deeded the land to CTC and, in the second deed, signed by Minton, Starmount deeded the land to CTC, but that deed noted that the land was dedicated to the City of Greensboro for floodplain and open space purposes.

Carruthers said that although the land had not been formally dedicated to the city, the city had placed storm sewers and sanitary sewers in the dedicated land without acquiring any additional rights-of-way and had been regularly mowing and maintaining the land for over 30 years.

Councilmember Nancy Hoffmann said that this had been an ongoing dispute dating back several months.

Hylarides said the intention of CTC was to build a single-family home on the property in question and claimed the property was given to Ms. Teri MacDonald-Cadieux by Minton.

Barber asked how or why she deeded the property to herself, and Hylarides agreed that she didn’t own the property.

Hoffmann said that Starmount didn’t recognize the deed signed by Minton as valid.

Marc Isaacson, of Isaacson Isaacson Sheridan Fountain & Leftwich, representing homeowners adjacent to the 7.8 acres, asked that the city formerly accept the property as open space and said that the 11 property owners adjacent to the land bought their homes in part because they were next to dedicated open space that would never be developed.

The City Council evidently decided that a person cannot deed property they don’t own to themselves and that retired officers of a corporation probably don’t have the legal authority to give away the corporation’s land and voted 8 to 0 to formerly accept the land as open space.

City Councilmember Justin Outling, who was recently made a partner in the Brooks Pierce law firm, asked that he be recused from the agenda item because he had a conflict of interest. Outling was also recused from three consent agenda items for the same reason.

During the speakers from the floor, a number of people spoke about a recent column in the editorial section of the News & Record by Amy Murphy suggesting that the city consider placing all of its homeless services in one location outside the central business district.

The column has resulted in quite a bit of controversy among those who provide services for the homeless.

Murphy, also known as the “Chicken Lady” because she serves chicken and biscuits to the homeless every Monday morning in Center City Park, spoke at the meeting saying that since the column had been published she had spoken with several of the people she served and that there was support for the idea among the homeless population, as long as the location chosen for the services was safe and convenient.

One speaker spoke against banning the homeless from the downtown, which is not under consideration. The idea suggested was to group the homeless services in one area so that the people using those services could go to one location to receive those services.

Lewis Brandon asked the City Council to consider renaming a portion of Westover Terrace and Aycock Street near Grimsley High School in honor of Josephine Boyd, who in 1957 was the first black student to attend what was then Greensboro High School.

Although Boyd suffered from intimidation from her white classmates, some spitting on her, throwing rocks, taunting her and calling her disgusting names, she persevered. Boyd was the first black student to attend a white high school in North Carolina and in most of the South. Greensboro can be proud of the fact that it didn’t take the National Guard to integrate its high school. For what was a historic event, the integreation of Greensboro High School was done relatively quietly and without a lot of controversy. All it took was one extremely brave young woman who was willing to accept the abuse from her fellow students to assert her right to attend the school of her choice.

It is certainly an event and a person that Greensboro should recognize.

Councilmember Yvonne Johnson said she would make the motion to rename the street when it was appropriate. Councilmember Sharon Hightower, who was participating in the meeting by phone, said she would second the motion, and Mayor Nancy Vaughan said she would support it. There were murmurs of agreement from the rest of the City Council and no opposition.

City Manager Jim Westmoreland said that the property owners on the street would have to be notified and a public hearing held before the street could be renamed, but he said the city would start the process.

Rather than simply naming a couple of blocks for Josephine Boyd, who became Josephine Boyd Bradley, the city should consider renaming the street from Wendover Avenue to Florida Street in her honor.

It would remove some confusion over street names and resolve an issue the city is certain to face in the future. Aycock Auditorium has been renamed, as has Charles B. Aycock School and the Aycock Historic District. The City Council could be proactive and go ahead and rename Aycock Street.

Also, Josephine Boyd Bradley, who died in 2015, deserves more than just a couple of blocks.

The City Council also agreed to lease 265 parking spaces to Downtown Slugger LLC to provide parking for the $17 million, nine-story office building Slugger is planning to build next to First National Bank Field on Bellemeade Street.

According to the agreement, parking places will be provided in the city-owned parking deck that will be built across Bellemeade Street from the proposed office building on the corner of Bellemeade and Eugene streets.

The new parking deck will be built for the city by the Carroll Companies (which also owns the Rhino Times) and has plans to construct a multi-story building over the parking deck. The Carroll Companies has also agreed to lease parking spaces from the city to provide parking for that building.

The agreement was not, as has been reported elsewhere, an agreement to build a parking deck; that agreement was signed months ago with the Carroll Companies. The Carroll Companies is not mentioned in the agreement with Slugger that the City Council approved by a 9-to-0 vote.

Outling said that one of the questions he was asked while campaigning door to door was why the city was building a parking deck for a private developer. Outling said it was important for the City Council to look to the future and ensure that the city has adequate downtown parking. He said, “This is an attempt by the city to get in front of the issue.”

Outling added that in this case between the Carroll Companies and Slugger, over half of the parking spaces will already be leased, indicating there is a need for more parking in this area.

The City Council has canceled its first meeting in October so it won’t meet again before the City Council primary on Oct. 10.