The town board of commissioners is giving Duke Energy more time to address the concerns of nearby residents who are opposed to the utility’s plan for a proposed substation.
Duke Energy has submitted a rezoning petition for land directly north of the Springhill subdivision and southwest of the intersection of Wade Nash Road and the section of N.C. 55 known as North Broad Street.
Residents of Springhill have been vocally opposed to the plans, saying the substation’s appearance and noise would diminish their quality of life and property values. Duke Energy first submitted the petition in November.
Monday, Marty Clayton, district manager for Duke Energy, presented changes to the conditions of the petition that he said were the result of discussions with residents since the town’s April 4 meeting, when the board first decided to continue the hearing.
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Duke Energy initially sought to rezone about 12 acres of its 24-acre property. The revised plan reduces the land to 7.41 acres. Though the utility has been clear about its intention to build a substation on the land, it offered to strike a variety of building types, such as veterinary clinics and childcare facilities, from the land’s allowable uses. It also offered to remove the above-ground lines that currently run through the neighborhood.
After nearly 90 minutes of discussion, the board unanimously decided to delay the vote until June 21 to give Duke Energy another opportunity to work on the plan. The delay, coming about 9:45 p.m., prompted groans and the departure of about 40 Springhill residents.
“This is a waste of our time,” one person said.
Commissioner William Harris was the only board member to take a position on the petition, saying he wanted to deny it.
Comissioners Charlie Adcock and Jason Wunsch said they likely would vote to deny the revised plan, as presented Monday, but that they want to see if further dialogue could produce a compromise.
Mayor pro tem Blake Massengill secured commitments from Duke Energy to maintain and ensure the success of the tree-and-shrub buffer to be planted around the southern and western sides of the substation to shield it from view. This prompted some in the audience to scoff.
Residents who spoke at the meeting instead asked that the substation be relocated. They disputed the simulated lines of sight Duke Energy presented, in which the substation is mostly invisible from street level.
“I think almost all of us have our master bedrooms on the second floor,” said Jeff Willis, who lives in Springhill. “There isn’t a house that backs up onto this that isn’t two stories.”
Despite the planning board’s Nov. 16 recommendation to reject the petition, Town Manager Adam Mitchell has since recommended its approval. He said Monday that concessions and changes to the plans have convinced him and his staff the project is in the town’s best interest.
Residents ask: Why here?
Doug Thompson, president of the Springhill homeowners association, said there are other usable sites Duke Energy could have chosen, including some farther away from residents and less visible from North Broad Street, a main entrance into Fuquay-Varina.
“There have been discussions about moving the station to a new location, but the analogy I’d use is we’d be building an exit ramp where a road doesn’t exist,” said Clayton, referring to the site’s proximity to existing transmission lines. “We’re building it there because that’s where we need to unload the power.”
Duke Energy site planner Timothy Same said the utility had considered other properties but declined to say where. He said the tract was purchased “in the November or December timeframe” of 2015. Real estate records show the purchase was finalized Aug. 10, 2015, from Delaware-based Stafford Land Company Inc., more than two months before Duke Energy submitted its rezoning petition to Fuquay-Varina.
Same said while Duke Energy, a public utility rather than a developer, generally waits to purchase land until it has “done due diligence” to ensure it can use the land as it pleases, it had not done so in this case.
Same said the land was acquired at auction as part of foreclosure proceedings. He declined to say how much the utility paid. Wake County does not keep records of successful bids for land sold at auction.
A record of partial release from the bank holding Stafford’s mortgage shows Stafford bought the land at a value of $1.88 million in March 2008.
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan