9OYS Investigates: Controversy over ECU chancellor’s planned residence

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – The debate over whether ECU misrepresented their intentions when it came to acquiring property to expand the current chancellor’s house continues to rage on.

The story changes depending on who you talk to. Members of the Tar River University Neighborhood Association (TRUNA) say they feel as if ECU lied to them for years about their goals.

“There’s no transparency,” said TRUNA’s President Hap Maxwell. “Nothing has been said to the neighborhood about we’re changing course.”

But ECU disagrees.

ECU Foundation President Chris Dyba told WNCT the initial plan was to buy four homes behind the Dail House, the current chancellor’s residence, with the goal of tearing them down to expand the residence. He said the home is outdated and makes hosting parties and benefits for the university difficult.

But in the fall of 2016, plans changed.

“Those plans were rejected for whatever reason,” said Dyba. “Maybe it was cost, but it doesn’t matter.”

According to ECU officials, the main reason why plans changed was the cost associated with expanding the current residence. Some estimates pushed the cost to around $3 million.

Dyba said once they realized expansion wasn’t going to work, they looked elsewhere, eventually settling on a home at 3100 Kariblue Ln for a price of $1.3 million. Dyba said the money won’t impact any programs or scholarships at ECU.

But Maxwell claims that at no time was the neighborhood association notified plans had changed. Maxwell said they met with ECU officials in the fall of 2016 to review renderings of the planned expansion on Fifth Street.

“Our board had a lot of questions and some concerns, but all things considered, we felt it was a real positive,” he said.

IMPACT ON TAXES

Beyond the debate is the impact all of this has on the taxes collected in the city of Greenville and Pitt County.

After receiving approval from the state, the ECU Foundation bought the four properties on Jarvis Street and Summit Street behind the Dail House. Eventually, the state bought those properties from the foundation, making them state properties and exempt from local and county taxes.

The impact amounts to a loss in taxes of $2,757 for Greenville and $3,726 for Pitt County every year.

Dyba said the foundation plans to request a waiver of taxes on the Kariblue Lane house, which would then take that property off the tax books as well. If that were to happen, those losses in taxes would increase to $7,603 for Greenville and $10,212 for Pitt County every year.

The city would still have to approve the request to waive taxes on the Kariblue Lane house.

HISTORIC PRESERVATION QUESTIONS

The debate over the chancellor’s house also impacts historic preservation. The four homes purchased behind the Dail House are historically protected, as they were built in the early 1900s. To demolish or change the properties in any way, approval must be given.

Chris Nunnally, vice-chair of Greenville’s Historic Preservation Commission, said they are now re-examining the issue. He said the initial request for demolition was granted due to ECU’s intention to expand the Dail House for the university and chancellor’s use.

Nunnally wants to know if those changed plans impact the ability to tear down historically protected homes.

“That’s a pretty significant shift of positions as it relates to our view of those initial applications,” he said.

ECU said it has followed state law when it comes to giving advanced notice of any planned demolition. They also said they’ve offered to help re-locate the homes to someone who is interested in saving the actual structures.

According to ECU officials, no one has taken up their offer.

During their January meeting, Greenville’s Historic Preservation Commission voted to re-examine the issue from a legal aspect, and requested ECU officials meet with them to answer remaining questions.

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