Robbins Moves to De-Annex
The Robbins commissioners voted 4 to 1 Thursday night to seek state approval to de-annex a small section at the Robbins Crossroads.
The board is asking state Sen. Harris Blake to introduce a local bill to de-annex some land owned by Gene Lewis at the intersection of N.C. 705 (the Pottery Highway) and N.C. 24-27.
His convenience store, Robbins Friendly Mart, is in the Bensalem Township, which recently passed an ABC referendum to allow off-premises beer and wine sales.
For Lewis, that means a competitor across the street could sell beer and wine while his store, now in the town limits, could sell only wine.
The town commissioners wanted to help Lewis' business. Lewis was co-president of Northern Moore Tomorrow (NMT) when he had his property voluntarily annexed years ago.
Working with Wallace Edwards and later with Brian Allen in NMT, Lewis was part of that pre-STEP group's efforts to find ways to stimulate the economy of the Robbins area. The naming of N.C. 705 (that passes his store) as the Pottery Highway and the Old Elise Depot project came out of their efforts.
Randy Merritt, who leases the store from Lewis, and Allen urged approval of three measures in the ABC referendum last September in what was then a "dry" town.
Robbins voters approved off-premises sale of wine but turned down mixed drink and beer sales -- all by narrow margins in which a handful of votes either way would have changed the outcome.
Later, Bensalem Township voters approved both beer and wine sales.
In return for being re-annexed, Merritt and Lewis offered an agreement under which Robbins will receive payments equal to what the municipality would receive in property taxes and will pay the double out-of-town water rates.
"Robbins will get more money this way," Commissioner Lynn Loy said. "We need money right now."
De-annexation worried Commissioner Frank Marley, who views that as a radical step for any town to take. As an attorney, he said he saw their original simple agreement as probably unenforceable. He asked them to work out something that would be enforceable with town attorney Doug Gill.
Merritt took the matter to his attorney who worked with Gill to come up with something that the town could trust and that would make de-annexation possible.
In the meantime, the Town Board was scheduling a number of special meetings to interview candidates for the job of town manager, vacant since Brant Sikes left to work for the county earlier this year.
Thursday's session was mostly a closed meeting that started at 5:30 and did not return to open session until 8. The commissioners interviewed another of several applicants. After returning to open session the board turned to considering two legal agreements before them.
They first approved a generic contract that will enable some nonprofit corporation to run summer baseball in the park under the supervision of the town manager. Then they took up the de-annexation proposal.
"This just came in by fax at 5 p.m.," Interim Town Manager Tommy Combs said, handing out copies. "If you approve it, the town attorney would have to submit it to Senator Blake."
Much discussion followed. Mayor Theron Bell said she worried about costs to the hard-pressed town budget. Merritt assured commissioners that the store would pay all costs involved, including any attorney's fees incurred by the town. Loy supported the measure. Commissioner Mary Wood made the motion to approve it. Mark Garner pointed out that it was a pro-business step in keeping with town policy.
"If we don't do this," Garner said, "we need to quit saying we are business-friendly."
After careful rewording of the text of Wood's motion, with help from Combs, Bell called for the vote. Marley cast the lone dissenting vote. He said he felt more comfortable about opposing knowing that the measure would pass despite it. He reiterated that he doesn't like de-annexation.
Lewis and Bell will sign the contract that is included in the proposed legislative text, which will then go to Blake's office for his consideration.
Allen, who had worked hard for the ABC change as something the Robbins area needs for economic prosperity, was elated.
"This is a win-win for all parties," he said. "I think it supports the 'buy local, shop local' campaign that the new marketing director is trying to do. I think it will help downtown merchants and grocery stores."
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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