Log home company has axe to grind with Carroll

First Posted: 5/27/2009

HILLSVILLE, Va. Carroll Countys issues with North Carolina-based log home manufacturers just wont seem to go away.
Already involved in a messy lawsuit with N.C. log home manufacturer Amerlink, Carroll County now appears to have an issue with Rocky Mount, N.C.-based log home manufacturer The Original Log Cabin Homes.
Tom Vesce, founder and president of The Original Log Cabin Homes, said he purchased property from the Carroll County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) in the Carroll County Industrial Park in July of 2008 for $109,373.20. He said the company currently brings sawn timber into its Eastern North Carolina headquarters in Rocky Mount. Since that location is in a hurricane zone with a 50-foot elevation and 100 percent humidity, it takes upward of a year to naturally air dry timber. Timber can naturally be air dried in Carroll County in half that time since the location is at the top of the hill at the industrial park, where it is aided by a near-constant wind. Since most of the timber is purchased in Carroll County from local forest producers such as Mike Turman, Vesce said the location is a logical one for the company. Vesce said his company will spend millions of dollars with Turman and local producers of forest products.
Clouding the issue, however, appears to be the matter of a sawmill, or lack thereof, on the property Vesce purchased from the county. Vesce said he considered, but never signed an agreement with Carroll County, to place a sawmill at the industrial park. Carroll County Administrator Gary Larrowe is currently out of the country on a mission trip and could not be reached for comment. However, in e-mail correspondence with Vesce, Larrowe stated that was the purpose of the land sale.
Tom, in many e-mails you have stated that you were building a building. This was the premise of the land sale. Now, you say no! Amazing, Larrowe wrote to Vesce on May 19.
In an e-mail dated May 18, Larrowe told Vesce that he had found several communications indicating Vesce planned to build a building on at the industrial park site during the purchase process, and later.
Now, you indicate that you will not be building a building as required. This confuses me greatly, Larrowe wrote. As a prerequisite, you are required to submit a site/building plan that must be approved by the IDA. No such plan has been submitted and no authority to further develop the site has been granted by the IDA. Also, as you know, the IDA has the right but not the obligation to re-purchase the property at what you paid for it if you do not abide to the covenants of the Industrial Park. The covenants require a submittal of plans, they be approved and the start of construction begin before 12 months end. It is the intent to re-purchase the property for what you paid for it minus 20 percent liquidated damages if you do not fulfill the covenants.
Larrowe also wrote that Carroll County had no plans to be involved in Vesces planned June 24th ribbon cutting until those matters were taken care of. Vesce says he is the victim of backlash from Carrolls previous dealings with Amerlink. Carroll sued Amerlink, Harlingen Holdings and Pro-Form Construction late last year in the Circuit Court of Richmond for the return of 32.4 acres of land in the Carroll County Industrial Park as well as the return of $600,000 in grant funds after the company failed to deliver on its promise to create 200 jobs and $3 million in investment in Carroll County. Amerlink has since filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Western District of North Carolina. A subsidiary of Harlingen Holdings, Amerlink deeded the land to Pro-Form Construction, also a Harlingen Holdings subsidiary. Pro-Form has now asked the bankruptcy court for a change venue from the Richmond court for its portion of the lawsuit to the bankruptcy court.
Since Vesces company never received any incentives from the county as Amerlink did, he said Log Cabin Homes shouldnt be held to the same standard.
I said I would consider building, but I never added a stipulation or conditional agreement signed between Carroll County and Log Cabin Homes on how we would operate because I never took any money. It is very normal and required when you take incentive money and grant money that there are stipulations of what you will do and why, Vesce said. I never accepted any money. I paid for that property, so you cant hold me to the same standard as Amerlink. I like Gary, but the outside advice they are getting is totally wrong. They have an exterminating lawfirm to fight Amerlink, but dont sick those dogs on me. I am trying to bring business to the community.
Vesce said he would fight the battle in the court of public opinion. He plans to attend the Carroll County IDAs June 4 meeting to address the matter, and said he wouldnt be opposed to a town hall meeting to answer any questions the IDA or county citizens might have. Vesce said he also intends to go about his business at the industrial park site. Its his property and the IDA cant dictate his business, he said.
If the county doesnt want to resolve this, I will call the Governors Office and have the Virginia Department of Commerce come sort this out, Vesce said. The county is so consumed with the Amerlink fiasco they are not thinking straight. The most important thing is I took no money, no handouts or bailouts. I plan on staying there and if they want to litigate this thing, which is a big mistake, I can certainly litigate this thing. In North Carolina, also in the state of Virginia, there is statues called predatory or unfair business practices, which is triple damages plus attorney fees, and they dont want to go down that road. They need to understand what they signed, what they agreed to. (The county) doesnt want to go into another lawsuit and cost taxpayers a few hundred thousands of dollars more. They cant tell me how to operate my business as long as I follow the rules of Virginia and the federal government. If I accepted money, they could, but I never accepted money. Lets bring the state of Virginia into this thing on a friendly basis, let the citizens ask questions to me. I am ready to go. Full disclosure never hurts.
But while Vesce claims he never agreed to put a mill in at his site in the industrial park, the deed of dedication and restrictions of the Carroll County Industrial Park does require businesses to meet certain building and time criteria.
Mr. Vesce and his company acquired property in the Carroll County Industrial Park for economic development and as part of that deal agreed, in writing, to develop the property in a certain fashion and in a defined time period. The IDA does not sell property for speculative purposes, to allow someone to hold the property and they transfer it for a profit. The IDA wants property developed and jobs created, so we have restrictions in our transactions that impose time requirements in which the property must be developed or transferred back to the IDA, said Assistant County Administrator Nikki Shank. All the County and the IDA want is for Mr. Vesce and his company to live up to the deal they made. We should expect all companies to deal in good faith with the County and the IDA and do what they say they would do. The IDA has invited Mr. Vesce to discuss this matter and consider anything he has to say about this, but the general rule is that we honor our arrangements and we expect others to honor theirs.
Assistant County Administrator Ronald Newman said the IDA will meet on June 4 at 4 p.m., at which time these issues will be discussed by the IDA.
Vesce said The Original Log Cabin Homes is the official log home of outdoors giant Cabelas. He said his company has also been a tenant for two years in the Crossroads Institute in Galax, increasing the office size twice in that time.

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