The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday March 21st

Historic Colonial Inn faces owner change

This vote comes in response to the property’s disrepair under the current owner, Francis Henry, who bought the property in an auction in 2002.

Under Henry’s ownership, the inn has received numerous demolition-by-neglect complaints from neighbors leading to a nearly decadelong feud with the town’s Board of Commissioners.

Eminent domain was not the first choice of the town government to repair the Colonial Inn.

Henry was fined $2,500 in 2005 and again in 2011 for $5,000, both times for not making court-ordered repairs.

“I think it’s fair to say elected officials ... are loath to exercise the right of eminent domain,” Orange County Commissioner Barry Jacobs said.

The inn’s disrepair became apparent when neighbors reported a fire at the inn this past July.

“I made sure to try and be open-minded and work things out with the owner,” said Eric Hallman, a Hillsborough Town Board commissioner. “But after the fire, that was it.”

Hallman said the owner was burning materials in the fireplace, which led to reports of a fire by neighbors.

Following the incident, the town fire marshal ordered evacuation, banning everyone except licensed contractors from entering the property.

“We had to take drastic action,” Hallman said. “It had become a threat to public safety.”

The Hillsborough Board of Commissioners hired the UNC School of Government’s Development Financial Initiative to advise the town on how to redevelop the property. The initiative reported the property would require $2.9 million from a public-private partnership to be repaired.

The initiative’s study found the best use of the property would be a mixed-commercial space, with a restaurant, event room and office space.

The study recommends seeking historic landmark status for the property to decrease the taxable value by 50 percent.

Longtime local resident Alice Hunt Seelye said her mother managed the Colonial Inn’s kitchen in the 1910s.

“We all used to go to the restaurant,” said Seelye. “We’re all grieving for the inn’s current state of disrepair by the owner.”

Seelye said she supported the plans for eminent domain.

Now that the town Board of Commissioners has voted to begin proceedings to take control of the property, the town attorney will send a letter of notification to Henry, giving him 30 days to decide how to respond.

Hallman said that after these 30 days, it could take up to another 120 to completely negotiate new ownership terms for the 177-year-old inn.

“It’s been there long before I was, and hopefully it will be there long after I’m gone,” Seelye said.



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