Two big problems in Marion – the cleanup of the old Drexel Heritage site and the closing of the Community Building Park – are getting closer to being resolved. By this time next year, both the Drexel Heritage site should be cleaned up and the park should be fully open again.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the Marion City Council heard updates on both of these big issues which have caused much frustration and worries among Marion residents and city officials alike. This regular meeting was held at the East Marion United Methodist Church and hosted by the Marion East Community Forum.

First, the City Council heard an update about the cleanup of the old Drexel Heritage Furniture plant. During the summer of 2014, the owner of the site started tearing down the old furniture plant complex.

Mayor Steve Little said it was not unusual for an owner of a big, empty plant building to have it demolished and sell the wood and materials, which are valuable.

“It’s happened here in your own neighborhood,” said Little to the East Marion residents. He was referring to when local business owner Ford Miller had the old Marion Manufacturing building demolished and the huge amounts of debris were hauled away.

But in the case of the old Drexel Heritage plant, the opposite happened. This site was owned by Marion Property LLC, which in turn was owned by Fred Godley of Cornelius. Later, Godley declared he was not able to complete the demolition and indicated he wished to donate the property to the city of Marion and McDowell County.

For years now, huge remnants and debris of this old plant have been plainly visible from the Cross Mill community and Blue Ridge Terrace Apartments. The unsightly mess can also be seen from West Henderson Street.

“We got dumped on so to speak,” said Little of the situation.

This left local government officials seeking federal and state grant money to help pay for a massive cleanup from the unfinished demolition Godley started. The grant money was approved but environmental assessments had to be done.

Both the city and the county were able to get grant money but the environmental assessments found additional problems that had to be cleaned up, including some large underground storage tanks. The cost of the cleanup turned out to be $300,000 more than what the grant money could pay.

Little said he and other city officials talked with N.C. Rep. Josh Dobson about the problem and he was able to obtain the additional $300,000 to complete the cleanup. At Tuesday’s meeting, Little and the City Council thanked Dobson for his help.

“When this is done, we can all look back on this with pride,” said Dobson.

“It has been a long time coming,” said City Manager Bob Boyette. “The good thing is the money is in place.”

City Planning Director Heather Cotton told the council that advertisements have been published seeking bids from prospective companies. These bids will be opened on Thursday, Oct. 11 at the Community Building.

The cleanup work should take around nine months.

“I’m very ecstatic,” said Cotton. “It’s hard to work on a project since 2015 and not take it personally.”

Now, the 15-acre site is owned by the city of Marion and McDowell County, both of which plan to market it for new industries. It has water and sewer service and access to a railroad.

As for the Community Building Park, council approved the firm of WithersRavenel to provide engineering services for the drainage and sinkhole problems, which have forced the park’s closure.

WithersRavenel will complete the engineering report and final design needed for the city to seek funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the project. The final geotechnical engineering report about the park and City Hall properties showed the drainage issues are limited to the park’s playground area and part of the basketball court. City officials originally feared that the drainage problems could exist beyond that area.

Boyette said the hope is to complete the financing application by the end of this year and start construction in early 2019. The goal is to have the Community Building Park back open by the summer of 2019.

After the drainage repairs are completed, the city will install a new handicapped accessible playground, funded by a state grant and a Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust grant.

Mayor Pro Tem Billy Martin said he knows the public has wondered why the park has been closed for so long. He said the city had to make sure there were no other problems underneath the ground that could show up later. He added he couldn’t stand the thought of a family going to use that park if it was not fully safe.

In addition, the City Council heard a report from the Marion East Community Forum about all of the good work that is taking place in the East Marion, Clinchfield and Eastfield neighborhoods.

Niki Palmer with the forum presented a slideshow about the Tabernacle Community Garden at the corner of Baldwin Avenue and Clark Street and the neighborhood cleanups where residents pitch in to work and pick up litter and trash. A concert has been held.

“When people gather together, relationships are formed,” she said. “This is our neighborhood. We’ve created a community again. We’re bringing unity back to the community.”

Wes Carpenter, teacher and part-time youth minister at East Marion Baptist, gave an outline of his plan for a new recreational complex at 635 Baldwin Ave. on the property across from the church. His plan calls for a playground, soccer fields, a basketball court, a skatepark and maybe a walking trail or a splash pad.

“We have big dreams,” said Carpenter.

He added his church, the property owner, the local faith community, the Marion East forum and the Centro Unido Latino Americano are all working together on this.

In other business, the Marion City Council:

• Held a public hearing about the annexation of Stevens/Buckner properties on Hankins Road into the city limits. The properties have two houses and cover 2.62 acres. After hearing no comments, the council closed the hearing and voted to annex the properties, which are located just past the Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall.

• Held a public hearing about the zoning for the Stevens/Buckner properties. After hearing no comments, the council closed the hearing and voted to assign the R-2 Neighborhood Residential District zoning.

• Held a public hearing about a change in the wording for the zoning rules. After hearing one question, the council closed the hearing and approved the changes.

• Heard from some residents of the East Marion and Clinchfield communities during the public comment section. Louie Parrow talked about the sidewalks in East Marion not being accessible for people who use wheelchairs. The problem is the telephone poles in the sidewalks not allowing enough room for a wheelchair to get by. Lloyd Burleson spoke to the council about the continued criminal and public health problems at Johnny Banks mobile home park, which is just outside the city limits. “It’s like a Mad Max movie,” he said. Burleson said he’s brought this problem before the McDowell County Commissioners, since it is outside the city, but nothing has been done. Little told him he should go before the commissioners again.

• Did not consider the minimum housing eviction ordinances. It will be brought before council at a future meeting.

• Awarded a contract for the purchase of a budgeted replacement sewer jetter to Southern Vac of Lexington, S.C., through the N.C. Sheriff's Association procurement program, in the amount of $64,083, which is below the budgeted amount of $67,000.

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