Abandoned

City officials would like to see a tax foreclosure of the former Henderson Laundry at the corner of Chestnut Street and Andrews Avenue, but county officials are wary because of cost concerns that stem from the possible need to clean up dry cleaning chemicals on the site.

HENDERSON — City officials want to join forces with Vance County to deal with an abandoned dry cleaner that’s at the corner of Chestnut Street and Andrews Avenue, but the potential cost has county officials wary.

The former Henderson Laundry is at 341 N. Chestnut St., and has been unused for many years. Though it remains in private hands, the last time anyone paid property taxes on it was October 2010.

Officials want to see some other enterprise emerge on the property, but the problem is that as a former dry cleaner, it’s quite possible that there are any number of toxic chemicals in, on or under the building that need cleaning up.

That takes money. But Henderson officials recently went to the Vance County Commissioners’ Properties Committee with an idea for getting it.

The state Department of Environmental Quality has an office that orchestrates and subsidizes such cleanups, the Dry-Cleaning Solvent Cleanup Act Program. But to get a property into it, the owner has to put in an application.

City officials propose that local governments launch a tax foreclosure to take control of the former laundry, a move that would bring with it the authority to apply for a spot in the cleanup program.

But they also acknowledge the move wouldn’t be cost-free, in part because the state would insist that they put some skin in the game.

That would mean contributing up to $16,000 toward any required cleanup, county officials say.

They’d also need to spend another $15,000 or thereabouts dealing with “residual chemicals in the building.” And the city would someday have to pay to knock down the building, buy an adjoining property and clear the site, to the tune of an additional $400,000.

The response from the Properties Committee — which includes Commissioners Dan Brummitt, Leo Kelly and Gordon Wilder — amounted to “not so fast.”

Members had questions that included whether the state could take the lead and clean up the site on its own authority, without their government or the city needing to get involved. They asked city officials to set up a meeting with DEQ staff to see.

The commissioners were worried about “the county putting significant funds into the property with no guarantee that it would be reusable or marketable in the future,” County Manager Jordan McMillen’s staff said in a report to the rest of the county board.

Local governments are losing tax revenue because of the situation, but on paper that doesn’t amount to much because county tax assessors say the building and the land under it, despite their strategic location, are worth only $11,864.

The back tax bill, going back the full 11 years, is only $18,886.

The continued stalemate is frustrating for Henderson Mayor Eddie Ellington, who invoked the words of an Elvis Presley song in saying what the situation demands is “a little less conversation, a lot more action.”

“This property has been an ongoing eyesore and must be removed, for it is standing in our way of redevelopment,” Ellington said, adding that a private estate matter contributed to the property’s abandonment. “It portrays a bad image entering into the downtown area, along with irresponsibility on our part by letting this carry on any longer.”

But he said he’s “confident that the county will step up and recognize this as well” because, given that Henderson is the county seat, the problem “is a reflection on both governments.”

Contact Ray Gronberg at rgronberg@hendersondispatch.com or by phone at 252-436-2850.

Contact Ray Gronberg at rgronberg@hendersondispatch.com or by phone at 252-436-2850.