Southampton supervisors’ decision called ‘biased, prejudiced’

Published 10:04 am Tuesday, February 28, 2012

COURTLAND—Chief Walt “Red Hawk” Brown called Southampton County supervisors’ decision “biased and prejudiced” after they refused to consider waiving real estate taxes on tribal land near Courtland.

“I don’t think there’s anyone here who doesn’t want to give you tax-exempt (status),” Franklin District Supervisor Barry Porter told Brown, chief of the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe and the former Newsoms District county supervisor who lost his seat during the November election.

“We just want to make sure we do it right,” Porter said. “We are not trying to deny you the benefits. You are trying to rush something through. I’m not going to vote for something I don’t understand. I’m not comfortable with that.”

Supervisor Dr. Alan Edwards told Brown he wanted to see a site plan for the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe Heritage Foundation’s plans for the 100 acres on Old Bridge Road. The foundation purchased the land from International Paper in 2009 for $135,000. Current taxes on the property, where Brown said the 324-member tribe plans to develop a cultural, educational and religious center, are $794 per year.

“We agree with your concept,” Edwards said. “We just want you to go through the proper channels. We don’t feel we can give you tax-exempt status.”

Brown argued that in December supervisors unanimously approved waiving taxes for Mahone’s Tavern and Museum. The registered non-profit that owns the historic tavern on Main Street in Courtland had paid $785 annually in taxes, but did not need a site plan to get its tax-exempt status.

“The Code of Virginia doesn’t require (a request for) tax-exempt status go before (the county Planning Department),” he said. “You’re biased and prejudice.”

Also a registered non-profit, the tribe’s Heritage Foundation is building interpretive trails and has planted 20,000 native longleaf pines. Plans also call for developing a Cattashowrock village and a museum with more than 2,000 artifacts.

County Attorney Richard Railey explained that just because the Heritage Foundation is a non-profit, it doesn’t mean it automatically qualifies for tax-exempt status.

“You have to show how it will be used,” Railey told Brown. “‘Use’ is the key. Is it going to be used as it is today, or is there a plan for the future?”

Boykins District Supervisor Carl Faison favored considering the tax-exempt status, given the board waived taxes for the Mahone Tavern. No other board members agreed; four of the board members who approved the Mahone Tavern request are no longer supervisors.

County Community Development Director Beth Lewis noted the 100 acres is zoned for agriculture, which provides for exceptions for recreation. However, without seeing a plan, she could not say whether the Heritage Foundation would need to seek permission from county planners for the development.