Land

Land is under contract by Watauga County Schools for the future site of a new Valle Crucis School.

BOONE — The lawsuit filed by Deschamps Holdings LLC and others against the Watauga County Board of Education — sought to prevent the school board from purchasing the Hodges property in Valle Crucis for the construction of a new school — was dismissed in Watauga Superior Court on Nov. 14.

Superior Court Judge Susan E. Bray signed the order on Nov. 14; the documents were filed Nov. 21. This comes after Bray’s Oct. 29 decision to deny an Oct. 10 motion for a preliminary injunction that would’ve kept the board from purchasing property for a new Valle Crucis School.

“We argued strenuously that the plaintiffs had no legal right to ask a court to prevent the school board from purchasing the Hodges Property under the facts of the case and we’re pleased that the judge agreed,” said school board attorney Chris Campbell in a statement.

A request for comment by the plaintiffs’ attorney, Robert Hunter of the Higgins Benjamin law firm, was not returned by presstime.

In her Nov. 14 order, the judge rejected the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction to stop the school board from completing its purchase of the property. Bray determined the plaintiffs could not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits of their case if it went to trial. The order states that the plaintiffs did not have legal standing to permanently prevent the Watauga County Board of Education from purchasing the Hodges property on its claims involving the First Amendment, exclusive emoluments, the suitability of the site and the school’s due process efforts.

Particularly when it came to the site being suitable, the order states that, “Evidence that various experts retained by plaintiffs disagree with, and have raised questions regarding the opinions of, experts retained by the defendant board is insufficient for plaintiffs to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits.”

The order added that the plaintiff’s claim of irregularities with appraisals commissioned by the school board 13 years ago regarding different appraisers and different real property “has no nexus to this action and is irrelevant.”

She also found that the plaintiffs could not show that the use of the Hodges property for a school would cause irreparable harm to the Mast Farm Inn and could not show how the inn’s legal rights were in jeopardy.

“The mere fact that the purchase of the Hodges property and subsequent construction of an elementary school could have a negative pecuniary impact on (the) plaintiffs’ business, including their investment in the Mast Farm Inn and the real property on which it is built, is insufficient to establish the standing as to any of the plaintiffs’ causes of action,” the order states.

Ron Henries, chairman of the Watauga County Board of Education, expressed his appreciation for the court’s ruling.

“I am pleased at the judge’s decision,” Henries said in a statement. “I want to commend our attorney Chris Campbell for his diligence in defending us against what we believe is a baseless lawsuit. I also want to commend Superintendent Scott Elliott for his thoroughness and hard work that proved beneficial in court.”

Currently, the school board is pursuing a septic permit for the Hodges property prior to closing on the contract as part of its due diligence testing to ensure the site is appropriate for the new school. The board voted unanimously at its Nov. 7 meeting to extend its contract for the purchase of the Hodges property in order to provide the time needed to conduct the permit level soil test. Henries added that the school board remains focused on buying property and moving forward with plans for a new school.

“We look forward to continuing the process of building a new school for the students of Valle Crucis,” Henries said.

Kayla Lasure contributed reporting to this article.

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