American Legion Post 6 plans to build a new veterans retreat on 128 acres of farmland in southwestern Orange County.
The county’s Board of Adjustment approved a special-use permit Jan. 9 for the camp/retreat center in the White Cross community on N.C. 54, Post 6 Commander Bill Munsee said.
The plan notes that many veterans live near the site, located across N.C. 54 from The Barn at Vahalla event center.
The post could finalize the deal for the land, part of the Samuel Ray estate, by mid-February, Munsee said, and then get driveway, building, stormwater and other permits. Their new neighbor Lester Ray will continue to use part of the site for farming and forestry, he said.
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Groundbreaking for the 16,600-square-foot center is expected in late March, with an opening in time for the Post’s 100th anniversary celebration on Oct. 28, 2019, Munsee said.
Until then, the post will continue leasing its current home from the town of Chapel Hill, which paid $7.9 million for the 36-acre Legion Road property in 2016. The American Legion Task Force presented a report about future uses for the site in November, and Town Manager Roger Stancil could return to the Town Council this spring with a draft plan.
The money from selling the post is paying for the roughly $4.2 million retreat center project, Munsee said.
It will be the third home for Post 6, which started in 1919. The Legion’s first home was a small log cabin with basement, built on West Rosemary Street in 1931. In 1957, its members moved to what was then a rural dairy farm on the road to Durham.
A busy residential and commercial community has since hemmed in the Chapel Hill post, which now has about 200 active members. The new center will be “an ultra-modern facility” designed to serve a population that includes many younger veterans and their families, Munsee said.
“It’s going to be a very nice facility, unlike our bunker,” he said.
The center will be available for veterans groups, Boy Scouts, community groups and businesses. It will feature a lounge area with a bar and games; a full-size kitchen; space for meetings, ceremonies and events; and athletic and recreational facilities, including a weight room, pond, picnic pavilion, athletic field and RV parking.
“There are veterans who travel across country ... so we just wanted to be able to have a place for them to be able to park for a couple of nights on their trips across country,” Munsee said. “It’s not a full-blown RV camping place, because it doesn’t have any hookups or a pump station.”
In the future, the post also could build a caretaker’s residence where a veteran could live while tending the property, he said.