Carroll, log home maker disagree on contract terms

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Original Log Cabin Homes owner Tom Vesce still plans to open a site for forest products operations in the Carroll Industrial Park, despite what he describes as a less than welcoming atmosphere from county officials.

When the Carroll County Industrial Developmental Authority accepted bids in 2007 on the property — once known as “the pumpkin patch” for the produce grown there — it initially accepted a bid from the log home company in the amount of $75,000.

County officials have declined Vesce's invitation to a ribbon cutting at the property on June 24 at 11 a.m., meant to celebrate the start of operations at the location. County officials cite a problem with the company complying with the covenants and restrictions for development in the industrial park.

Vesce considers this a "slap in the face" for him and his company, which opened a sales office at the business incubator in the Crossroads Institute in Galax and has employed people in the Twin County for years.

The industrial park site would be used for secondary wood processing, which could involve things like storing and drying.

Carroll County provides a good fit for forest products companies, and Vesce foresaw Log Cabin Homes cooperating and complementing similar businesses in the region.

In a 2007 interview with The Gazette, Vesce cited the example of buying 10 truckloads of white pine timber from Turman's saw mill nearby. "I'm not putting a saw mill up there," Vesce told the newspaper at the time.

Now, Log Cabin Homes is ready to start using the property in part for drying lumber, Vesce told The Gazette last Thursday. "We're going to start rolling lumber onto the property."

For Carroll County's part, officials say that Vesce has not lived up to the terms of the industrial park restrictions, issued Jan. 12, 1990. That document states that no buildings or improvements will be placed on industrial park land without a specific plan approved by the county.

"Unless otherwise specified by the board of supervisors, construction of an approved building shall begin within one year of the date of the delivery of the deed to the purchaser, and shall be complete within three years of the date of delivery of the deed to the purchaser of said premises," the restrictions go on to say.

Carroll County has the right to buy back the land at the purchase price plus the cost of physical improvements paid for by the purchaser minus 20 percent liquidated damages, the industrial park restrictions say.

Carroll County had expectations for Vesce to develop the industrial park property in a certain way and in a defined time period, Assistant County Administrator Nikki Shank wrote in an e-mail.

"The IDA does not sell property for speculative purposes, to allow someone to hold the property and [then] transfer it for a profit," Shank wrote. "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."

Carroll County officials expect all companies it works with to live up to the deals they made, she wrote. "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."

The date on the deed is July 23, 2008.

Vesce denies that he has violated any deed restriction, noting that a year has not elapsed from the issuance of the deed.

In correspondence with the county, Vesce also takes issue with the idea that he has to make improvements to the property. "Building a building has always been a consideration but never has it been a requirement," Vesce said in an e-mail to various county officials. "No stipulation or condition agreement was signed between Carroll County and Log Cabin Homes on exactly how Log Cabin will operate now, and in the future, its business."

Unlike other economic development efforts in Carroll, Log Cabin Homes did not ask for incentives to locate in the industrial park, Vesce said. The company is not taking any money from the taxpayers.

"I came with money in my pockets to patronize local businesses," he said. "You can't put me and my company in the same jar as AmerLink."

(Carroll has filed a lawsuit against the log home manufacturer, in attempt to get AmerLink to pay back state incentive money it received and to return a parcel of county land. The company went bankrupt and only created one job in Carroll County after promising close to 200.)

Vesce says it's a "slap in the face and an outrage" that county officials have refused to come to the ribbon cutting in June. It's a disgrace to him and his company, his employees, vendors like Turman's and customers that the county is treating him this way.

"It is not right that my company and I are receiving the backlash from your AmerLink troubles," Vesce wrote to county officials, which he shared with The Gazette. "We bid and won the purchase for the property. We did not ask for or receive any grants, handouts, tax breaks or bailouts of any kind."

What brought Log Cabin Homes to Carroll County was a visit from County Administrator Gary Larrowe to the company in North Carolina, Vesce said. Larrowe sold the county land to the forest products company based on the location's merits alone without any promise of incentives.

Vesce believes that the public needs to know the whole story behind this situation and he's willing to take these disagreements to the media, the courts and the state commerce department, he said.

Vesce plans to attend the June 4 IDA meeting to answer any questions the authority might have and has invited members of the local media to witness the exchange.