Cleveland County Commissioners Sold Part Of Our Gateway Trail For $2.5 Million – Will That Money Make It Back To KM?

For over a decade, the Gateway Trail has been one of our greatest community assets.  Through the tireless efforts of local citizens and leaders, this trail and park were established, expanded, and have been well-maintained.  To date, Albemarle Lithium, Martin Marietta, and the Weir Family have donated easements for the trail, and the County and City have provided some funding for trail maintenance.  One of our greatest community assets has truly been a community initiative. 

As the planned lithium mining operation takes shape,however, the trail stands in its way.  It hasn’t been a secret – portions of the Gateway Trail (especially the longer Foote Trail to Galilee Church Rd) will have to be relocated.  And Albemarle has so far shown incredible willingness to partner in this.  We have no doubt that Albemarle recognizes the value of this local asset, and we have full faith in their commitment to funding the relocation and reestablishment of the trail in accordance with the goals and vision of linking to the State and Federal parks in the future.  Albemarle is acting as a tremendous community partner in ensuring that the trail will be a long-standing amenity in the area.

However, what has recently come to light is the role that Cleveland County has played with the trail, especially lately.

We have recently begun to document the one-sided relationship between Kings Mountain and Cleveland County.

How Kings Mountain residents are double-taxed for services and benefits that we don’t receive from the County.  

How the County cut Kings Mountain out of negotiations when it came to the casino and kept everything for themselves, ensuring that the County received all of the financial rewards (in-lieu-of-payments for hospitality taxes) and leaving the City of KM with nothing.

How Cleveland County Commissioner candidates litter our City with campaign signs but are absent after they have received our votes.

The County continues to take and take and take from the residents of Kings Mountain.  What do we get in return?

As it turns out, a similar story is playing out with the Gateway Trail.

When the trail was being planned and constructed, the non-profit that organized to build the trail needed a roughly 6.5 acre strip of land for expansion.  At that time, the City was unwilling to purchase it.  Why?  Who knows.  But it is emblematic of the failures in leadership and vision that, until recently, have plagued City Hall.  This predicament is as much on past leadership and the Councilmembers at the time as it is on anyone else.

So, the County purchased the land – for $40,000.  And trail expansion continued.

In 2022, Cleveland County Commissioners voted to pursue sale of this land to Albemarle.  During their November 15, 2022 meeting, the Commissioners unanimously voted to begin an upset bid process and approve Albemarle’s Letter of Intent to purchase the land for $2.5 million over two phases of closing.

The Phase 1 Closing would see the County receiving $1M cash in exchange for fee simple title to the property.  The County would retain an easement on the property, and the trail would operate as normal.  It seems, at this point, that that phase has closed – with property records showing a transfer from the County to Albemarle in November of 2023. 

Before Phase 2 can close – where the County receives an additional $1.5 million in exchange for releasing all of its rights in the property – a few things would have to happen.  Namely, Albemarle must secure a location for a replacement trail.  The minutes from that November 2022 meeting note: “Albemarle is not necessarily required to complete this design and build process before the next phase can begin, but it is required to complete the design work and commence construction within a commercially reasonable period.”

In those same minutes, the County Commissioners committed to working with state and local partners to “ensure all appropriate steps are taken regarding the movement of the Gateway Trail.”  As we mentioned, we have no doubt that Albemarle is working to meet their end of the bargain, but we’re not so sure about the County Commissioners.

Why aren’t we so sure?  Apart from their history of leaving Kings Mountain officials in the dark when it came to the casino, we aren’t aware of any efforts by the County to collaborate with Kings Mountain officials on this.  In fact, we’re not sure that the County even communicated with KM officials when the sale was occurring.  Again, left in the dark.

The County Commissioners moved to sell this piece of land for much more than they bought it, and they didn’t think to let us know.

The County Commissioners certainly have not made any public gesture towards pledging the profits from this sale to the local community or Kings Mountain parks and recreation.  It appears that they may keep it all for themselves – just as they do with the full-share of the property taxes they receive from us and just as they did with the casino.  No announcements of reinvestment in our community.  No promise to ensure that money makes it back to Kings Mountain.  Crickets. 

Albemarle is doing the right thing when it comes to ensuring adequate investment and attention to parks and recreation in our City.  The County should do the same – not take their money and run.  After all, they sold the land for 6,150% more than they purchased it for! 

We should demand that Cleveland County leaders be more transparent and work more closely with our City – not continue to take and take and take. 

After our recent post, Commissioner Kevin Gordon left a comment saying that our “facts [were] not accurate.”  When asked via email what was untrue, he walked that back – saying “[he’s] not sure it was “wrong” just the other side of a few points.”  He’s right about that. We are presenting another side – one that hasn’t been presented for quite some time.  So, it’s not a surprise that some of our County Commissioners don’t like it.

The truth is – previous City leadership failed in their duties to fight for Kings Mountain in our relationship with the County.  Our new City Manager is doing that.  What we should demand is that our County leaders also act in good faith and see that the “side” they’ve been looking at is much different than the one-sided view we have across the creek.  

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