News: CJ Exclusives

Easley’s Lot Gains $648K in Year

Lot bought for $549,880 has just been valued at $1,198,245

Waterfront property in Carteret County owned by Gov. Mike Easley has gained $648,365 in value since he bought the lot in an exclusive subdivision only a year ago, according to Carteret County tax records.

The Carteret County Tax Department on Tuesday set the fair market value of Easley’s lot at $1,198,245. The governor bought the land in the Cannonsgate subdivision for $549,880 on Dec. 16, 2005. The gain on the property is nearly as much as Easley’s pay as governor for six years.

The property was valued during a scheduled countywide revaluation that involved nearly 60,000 parcels. The new tax appraisals show Easley’s property is the second most valuable lot in the 525-lot, 287-acre, gated subdivision on the mainland across from Emerald Isle Beach. New-home construction in the development should start this year.

The lot bought by Easley and his wife, Mary, comprises 0.36 acres. Initial lot sales were handled through private offerings or word of mouth, said three lot owners, who did not want to be identified. Carolina Journal was unable to determine how Easley learned about the property and who set the purchase price for his lot. The governor’s press office has not responded to questions about the transaction.

When Easley became governor in 2001 his annual salary was $118,430. The General Assembly has increased it three times and it is now $130,000.

When Easley purchased the lot the tax value was $536,335, but that figure was based on what the estimated fair market value would have been in the year 2001.

Last year Carolina Journal reported that Easley, apparently through political supporters, acquired the lot at a bargain price compared to others who bought lots in Cannonsgate. The Charlotte Observer also published a story that reported the same circumstances.

The new tax information was recently made available online. The tax value of Easley’s lot was initially set at $730,011 under the new appraisal. Raleigh real estate developer E. Stephen Stroud owns the only Cannonsgate lot comparable to Easley’s. The two lots are the only ones that front the Intracoastal Waterway on one side and the entrance to the new marina on another side.

The tax office set the new value of Stroud’s lot at $1,329,150, but Stroud’s property was classified as Sound Front, while Easley’s was initially classified as Marina Front, which carried a lower value per frontage foot.

Last week, after CJ contacted County Tax Administrator Carl L. Tilghman seeking an explanation for the difference in the valuation of Easley’s and Stroud’s properties, he asked his staff to review the value on Easley’s lot and it was later reclassified as Sound Front, with the value established at $1,198,245.

Easley bought the lot from Cannonsgate developer R. A. North Development, Inc. of Matthews. Randoph M. Allen is listed as the company president, according to the N. C. Secretary of State Office’s corporation records. In June 2005 Easley appointed Allen to a six-year term on the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

During a break at a meeting of the Wildlife Resources Commission in Raleigh in December Allen briefly discussed the project with CJ. Even though Allen’s signature appears on Easley’s deed, Allen said he had nothing to do with setting the price for Easley’s lot.

He said the marketing company set the price, but Allen later acknowledged that his brother and development partner, William G. Allen, controlled the marketing company, Southeastern Waterfront Properties. Last year, lead broker for Southeastern, Mace Watts, refused to discuss the details of Easley’s purchase.

Real estate investor Lanny Wilson of Wilmington, through his company Cannonsgate Investments, LLC, provided $12.5 million in financing for the project. Wilson’s deed of trust to the developer is dated July 8, 2005. Wilson is a major political donor to Easley and other Democrats. Easley appointed him to the Real Estate Commission and to the N.C. Board of Transportation.

Advertised as “the Crystal Coast’s most coveted address,” the Cannonsgate master plan includes a 75-slip marina, tennis courts, a pool, and a clubhouse.

Cannonsgate literature describes the lots as follows:

“Imagine having the excitement of the Intracoastal Waterway at your doorstep. Roll up your jeans to dig for clams, drop anchor and fish for hours in the plentiful waters, or just relax and watch the world float by while you enjoy that incomparable waterfront lifestyle.”

“The homesites along the marina offer an exceptional social lifestyle. Imagine the buzz of activity as you peruse the docks and get ready for a day on the boat with family and friends. Venture out for an evening stroll and wave ‘Hello!’ as you put your feet up to read the latest best seller, iced tea in hand. The marina group will be a community of friends like no other.”

A deed of trust shows Easley secured a $494,000 loan for the Cannonsgate lot from Branch Banking & Trust Company of Whiteville.

According to his Statement of Economic Interest filed with the N.C. Board of Ethics in February, in addition to Cannonsgate, Easley owns three other properties: a home on East Lake Drive in Raleigh, a home on the Cape Fear River in Southport, and one–half interest in a home at Bald Head Island. He carries mortgages on all properties except the one at Bald Head Island.

Don Carrington is executive editor of Carolina Journal.