The most complicated thing about building a new Guilford County Animal Shelter might be selling the old shelter property.

Ever since the Guilford County Board of Commissioners decided to relocate the county’s animal shelter and sell off the existing shelter property, county legal staff and facilities staff have been trying to untangle the complex string of deals, deeds and contracts that have been strung together in the 60-year period since the county bought the three connected lots on West Wendover Avenue as a home for a county animal shelter.

Some of that property is owned jointly with two other local governments; part is on loan to the Humane Society of the Piedmont, and there’s been a great deal of confusion over who gets the shelter’s large parking lot when the county leaves. Some Guilford County commissioners said it was their understanding that the Humane Society would get a large slice of that parking lot, but old county records suggest otherwise.

The three lots became a center of attention for staff when the Guilford County Board of Commissioners decided to move the Animal Shelter to a nearby undisclosed 12-acre site that’s closer to High Point than the current shelter.

The commissioners, who are likely to take a formal vote on that move in August, plan on selling the old property once the new shelter is built; however, that could be a complicated affair given the contractual entanglements with two cities and a nonprofit organization.

The most valuable part of the property – the frontage on West Wendover Avenue – is owned by the county but is now occupied by the Humane Society of the Piedmont. According to the contract, Guilford County signed with the Humane Society in 1985, the organization can continue using the land – and the building the society built there – as long as it continues to provide animal services from that location. The Humane Society has no plans of moving and the group has a legal right to stay on the property.

That’s just one issue with the land. There’s a sharp drop off at the back of the property and other topological issues that could give potential buyers some pause, and that back lot is partially owned by the cities of Greensboro and High Point.

Former Guilford County Property Manager David Grantham, who retired in 2011, said the Animal Shelter property is unquestionably prime real estate in one of the most desirable locations in Guilford County. He said that, when he was the property manager, many, many times – even when there was no talk of the shelter moving – buyers approached Guilford County to try to purchase that land.

“That corridor was prized for a reason – that was the major road to High Point,” Grantham said.

He said it makes a huge difference in the sale price of the land whether the Humane Society lot is included or not.

“The back two lots aren’t going to bring in much without that frontage,” Grantham said. “But if you had that frontage, you could name your price. Wendover is so hot right now.”

Grantham said he isn’t sure how the county came to the current state of owning the property with two cities and the Humane Society.

“It’s kind of a bastard agreement,” Grantham said.

The Humane Society runs a low-cost spay and neuter clinic and provides a variety of other animal services. For instance, it offers a pet food pantry program for pet owners who have fallen on hard times and the group helps raise community awareness for animal welfare issues. The society primarily raises money through individual donors and it doesn’t get funding from the City of Greensboro or Guilford County.

Grantham said he believes the county’s arrangement with the Humane Society was made because county officials saw the advantages of having the group near the shelter.

“It’s one-stop shopping for people looking for animals,” Grantham said.

He also said any decision to move the Humane Society rests in the hands of that group.

“They can stay there as long as they want to,” Grantham said.

Guilford County purchased the three lots for a total of $5,500 from Allen and Billie Hutton on Oct. 9, 1958. The Humane Society building sits on Lot 1, which is 2.34 acres with a 4527 W. Wendover Ave. address. Lot 2 is the middle one, 3.67 acres at 4525 W. Wendover Ave., where the Animal Shelter now sits. Lot 3, the back lot that shares the 4525 W. Wendover Ave. address, is 2.68 acres. High Point has one-eighth ownership of the back lot and Greensboro has three-eight’s ownership. Guilford County owns the remaining half of that lot.

Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne said the county would need to get the consent of the two cities in order to sell the lot that’s owned jointly by all three local governments.

Presumably, High Point and Greensboro would get their share of the money.

In November 1985, the county entered into an agreement with the Humane Society that stated that, in exchange for $10 “and other valuable considerations,” the county does “bargain, sell and convey the land” to the society for as long as it uses the property for animal services. That agreement also allows the county to put a Guilford County Animal Shelter sign on the front lot. The contract states that, if the Humane Society dissolves or becomes “inactive,” the land reverts back to Guilford County.

One county commissioner said recently that Guilford County would lose “half of the parking lot to the Humane Society” when the county moves, but it now looks as though the Animal Shelter parking lot will be part of the property the county can sell. Some of that shelter parking lot was at one time part of the Humane Society’s land, but in 1992 the county regained it.

According to Assistant Guilford County Register of Deeds Manager Cindy Bennett, the Guilford County Animal Shelter property was re-surveyed in 1992 and, at that time, part of Lot 1 was transferred back to Guilford County. It was added to Lot 2 where the main Guilford County Animal Shelter building now sits. Bennett said all of the parking lot behind the Humane Society is now part of the county’s middle lot.

Whatever the history, the Humane Society currently shows no signs of wanting to move. Humane Society of the Piedmont Executive Director Erin Stratford Owens said the group is very happy where it is.

“We love our building and love where we are located,” she said. “It’s close to High Point and we have no plans to move.”

Owens said her group works with 21 agencies from different counties and animal transport trucks come to the site from all over. She said one good thing about the current location is that it has easy access to I-40 and other major roadways.

“People know where it is,” she added.

According to Owens, the Humane Society doesn’t need to be close to the Guilford County Animal Shelter to fulfill its mission. In fact, she said, from a “branding perspective,” being next to the shelter has often led to confusion.

“It is something of a marketing issue,” Owens said of being just yards away from the county’s Animal Shelter.

While the Humane Society doesn’t want to move, that frontage with the back lots would be such an attractive package for the county to put up for sale, the county commissioners might attempt to entice the group to relocate to the new shelter site, which has plenty of extra room for additional animal operations. The commissioners have already said they want other animal related services around the new shelter.

Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips said he and Commissioner Hank Henning approached the Humane Society last year about moving with the shelter when the county was attempting to put its new shelter on Burlington Road in east Greensboro next to the Guilford County Agricultural Center.

“Hank and I had some preliminary discussions with the Humane Society when we were looking,” Phillips said. “We were asking their board if the Humane Society might consider coming with us.”

Citizen opposition killed those plans.

“We haven’t revisited the possibility,” Phillips said, but he added that there may be a chance that an agreement for the new site could be worked out.

“If that doesn’t happen, then we will respect that decision,” Phillips said.

He said there was certainly a lot of complexity tied up in the property where the shelter now sits.

“That’s not going to keep us from relocating the shelter, which is ultimately for the benefit of the animals in our county,” the chairman said.

Henning said he had been greatly confused by the past county deals that didn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

“We give property away in valuable areas,” Henning said. “You want to know why Trump won: It’s because people are tired of this type of thing.”

Henning said Guilford County has to be careful about giving property to nonprofits because every time they take land and give it away they take it off the tax roles, thereby decreasing the tax base.

Grantham said he’s still surprised the residents of east Greensboro – who fought against the county’s 2016 attempt to build the shelter next to the Agricultural Center – didn’t want the shelter there.

Grantham said a nice new $9 million project that would have brought in a lot of visitors would have only been good for the area. He added that he spoke extensively with Commissioner Carolyn Coleman, who fought against putting the shelter at that location, but it didn’t do any good.

“Nobody was going to be worse off,” he said. “I don’t think there is a home within a quarter of a mile of the site.”