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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Update: Spokesperson for Hofmann buyer says no plans to develop

Posted by on Thu, Nov 14, 2013 at 11:38 AM

Update: A spokesperson for the potential buyer of Hofmann Forest released a statement saying the documents were prepared in early 2013 for Hofmann Forest, LLC for use by Jerry Walker and other members of the company. He maintains Walker does not intend to develop the property.

“The document in question was specifically put together for Hofmann Forest, LLC," wrote Lumberton-based consultant Tom Percival in an email. "It is a document that was originated for internal purposes in early 2013 for use by Jerry Walker, as a Managing Member, and other members of the LLC in the process of their initial consideration of purchasing the property. The purpose of this document was to show Mr. Walker and other members the many different and synergistic aspects that Hofmann Forest possesses and its potential for various types of uses that have been identified over the years."

"As an example, the development plans in the document are renderings that were done many years ago by North Carolina State University as a general study and were not prepared by or for Hofmann Forest, LLC. Since this document was created, the LLC, under the guidance of Jerry Walker, has recognized the value of the Hofmann as a forest and has no plans to develop the property into a large commercial and residential community.“

Here is the story posted Wednesday night:

Documents from Hofmann Forest LLC, the prospective buyer of N.C. State's Hofmann Forest, show that despite public statements to the contrary, the company does plan to convert parts of the property to agriculture and commercial and  residential development.

Hofmann_Forest_LLC_Prospectus_for_Potential_Investors.pdf

The INDY obtained the prospectus this evening, which outlines ways the company envisions using the 79,000-acre property outside Jacksonville, including plans for agricultural conversion, development and the selling of development rights, along with marketing timber.

“After preserving roughly 9,000 acres for development, the Forest would theoretically have 70,000 acres to convert to agricultural uses,” the document reads. “Due to numerous mitigating factors, such as wetland areas, one could conceivably convert 50,000 to 60,000 acres to agricultural land."

The prospectus, which also includes a detailed plan for a 9,000-acre commercial development along U.S. Highway 17, was presumably being used to attract potential investors to join the project.

The controversial sale of the forest to Illinois agri-businessman Jerry Walker, who has holdings in at least 23 counties in seven states, was announced two weeks ago in an N.C. State University press release. The university’s Board of Trustees of the Endowment Fund co-own the property, which was given to them and the North Carolina State Natural Resources Foundation, Inc., in 1977. 

Walker is the sole officer of Hofmann Forest LLC, according to documents filed with the North Carolina Secretary of State’s office Jan. 30, 12 days after the Natural Resources Foundation voted to put the forest up for sale. The Board of Trustees gave its approval to sell a month later, and in April, the Foundation voted to approve the sale to an undisclosed buyer. 

In the press release and in a News & Observer opinion piece, N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson and Mary Watzin, dean of the university’s College of Natural Resources maintained that a working forest would remain on the property and students and faculty would continue to have access to the property for research.

“The process was openly communicated to faculty, staff, students and other constituents of the College of Natural Resources, and there were multiple opportunities for opponents and supporters to present their views," the opinion piece stated.

A Lumberton-based spokesman for Hofmann Forest LLC, Tom Percival, said Walker wants to diversify operations with timber farming, which has been the mainstay of Hofmann Forest, bringing in nearly $2 million annually to the university.

Yesterday, a Wake County judge denied a motion to block the sale of the forest to Walker by a coalition of professors, foresters, landowners and wildlife conservationists who have brought a lawsuit against Hofmann’s owners, claiming that its sale will cause significant environmental impact. The judge is considering a separate motion to have the case dismissed.

Ron Sutherland, a conservationist for the Wildlands Network and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said the prospectus confirms the group’s worst fears.

"The idea that Chancellor Woodson and Dean Watzin are unaware of this prospectus is ludicrous. I think this needs to bring things down on N.C. State,” Sutherland said. “For them to be hiding this, lying to students and faculty and the media when there is $150 million on the line, is appalling.”

The university released Thursday morning regarding the documents obtained by the INDY:

"This is the first NC State has seen or heard of this document and it includes information that is not contained in the sales agreement. We are contacting the buyer to determine when the document was prepared, its accuracy and whether it reflects the buyer's current views regarding potential use of the land."

The INDY contacted the offices of N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson and Mary Watzin, dean of the university’s College of Natural Resources; the public affairs representative referred us to the press statement.

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