Edwardses may build near Chapel Hill

Presidential candidate, wife pay $1.3 million for 102 undeveloped acres

August 08, 2004|By Mary Umberger | Mary Umberger,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

You know that Sen. John Edwards would dearly love to live in the stately Victorian home at 34th Street and Massachusetts Avenue in Washington that is the official residence of vice presidents of the United States.

But if that plan doesn't pan out - well, there's always Chapel Hill.

At the end of June, vice presidential candidate Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, paid $1.3 million for 102 acres of forest and farmland about four miles outside the town where both attended law school at the University of North Carolina. The couple own a home in Raleigh that they bought more than two decades ago.

What will happen next on the acreage on Old Greensboro Road isn't clear. But one of the two brothers who sold them the property said that he expects the Edwardses to build a house there.

"The sale had the requirement that the land would be satisfactory for a personal residence, a barn and an office," said Paul Guthrie of Chapel Hill, who inherited the land along with his brother when their mother died in 1996. "That was the only contingency, other than the normal zoning kinds of stuff."

Guthrie, who is retired, said he grew up on the farm after his father bought it in 1947. A parcel that included the Guthrie family farmhouse was subdivided and sold several years ago, he said. Guthrie wasn't present when Elizabeth Edwards toured the land last spring, and the Edwardses didn't attend the closing, though they were represented by a lawyer in the all-cash transaction, Guthrie said.

He said that the closing went smoothly, and that the Guthries were happy with the prospect of the land remaining relatively untouched because intensive development has crept toward the farm in recent years.

"We're delighted that the plans that we are aware of would leave the land intact," Guthrie said. "One of the attractive parts of the offer was that we could see the Edwardses doing minimum disruption to the property. Over the years, large-scale developments have mushroomed there."

Any timetable for building a house there remains to be announced. An Edwards spokesman did not return calls asking for details.

But there is a recent precedent, sort of, in having a high-profile candidate's family plunge into a construction project in the midst of a national campaign. George and Laura Bush arranged to design and build their retreat just outside Crawford, Texas, while immersed in his presidential campaign in 2000.

Apparently not all such retreats withstand the test of time. President Richard Nixon's so-called Winter White House on Bay Lane in Key Biscayne, Fla., was bulldozed last month to make room for another house. Local media reports say the current owner of the property is a local developer.

The relatively plain, concrete-block, ranch-style home that Nixon frequented between 1969 and his resignation in 1974 was said to be the spot where plans unfolded for the break-in at Democratic Party offices at the Watergate complex in Washington.

It also was his frequent getaway destination during the height of the ensuing scandal. Nixon's neighbors at the time included confidantes with the once-familiar names of Bebe Rebozo and Robert Abplanalp.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing Newspaper.

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