It seemed to be a simple transaction four years ago when Mount Airy officials voted to sell a small parcel of land then thought to be city property.
But as it turned out, the municipality didn’t own the site on Andover Street at all — due to a mapping error — and officials now are poised to return the property to its rightful owners, a local family.
The situation arose in August 2010, when K&L Real Estate Investments of Manheim, Pa., made a proposal to buy the land on Andover Street, which is located off Worth Street.
This occurred due to K&L already owning property at 909 Andover St. and 329 Worth St., with plans for buying and possibly subdividing the additional acreage. It was described then by City Manager Barbara Jones as “just a small sliver” amounting to a 25-by-125-foot tract.
K&L Real Estate Investments offered $1,500 for the land that had an assessed value of $2,400 for tax purposes.
The prevailing wisdom among city commissioners at the time was that the sale would enable the municipality to reap taxes from a site that was producing no revenue. But before selling the parcel to the Pennsylvania realty firm, they devoted extra time and expense — after some disagreement — to advertise an upset-bid process for the land.
That was done out of fairness to allow others a chance to make offers, especially neighboring landowners. The process produced no other bids and the property was sold to K&L in September 2010.
But as it turns out, all this never should have happened.
“In my opinion, the city of Mount Airy did not have any ownership interest to convey…the deed,” City Attorney Hugh Campbell says in a recent memo to the board of commissioners issued after he researched relevant facts.
Instead, the land has been owned by a Slate family since 1960, the attorney’s memo added.
“The genesis of the problem was a mapping error in the Surry County Tax Office that gave the impression that the land was owned by the city,” it says. At the time of the 2010 transaction, no title search was sought or performed — at the Pennsylvania firm’s request, according to Campbell.
Later at some point, a dispute arose about the ownership of the property, which led to K&L agreeing to rescind the transaction. The city government also agreed to refund the money it paid.
The situation is to be formally cleared up during a 2 p.m. meeting today, when the commissioners are scheduled to vote on a resolution authorizing Mayor Deborah Cochran to execute a “quit-claim” deed to the Slate family for the land.
That is defined as a limited type of deed which serves only to convey a grantor’s interest in property without providing any warranties or covenants.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.