Clayton News-Star

Clayton wants to annex crop research farm

A New Holland tractor moves across a field at the Central Crops Research Station in Clayton on June 2, 2014. The Town of Clayton is seeking state legislation to annex the nearly 450-acre research farm.
A New Holland tractor moves across a field at the Central Crops Research Station in Clayton on June 2, 2014. The Town of Clayton is seeking state legislation to annex the nearly 450-acre research farm. cseward@newsobserver.com

Clayton leaders are seeking legislation that would allow them to annex a state-owned research farm on the town’s western border.

Annexing the nearly 450-acre Central Crops Research Station would not benefit the town’s tax base. But it would move the town limits closer to private lands that developers might one day turn into homes and businesses.

Clayton could offer the developers town services in exchange for annexation.

Town Manager Steve Biggs said Clayton has little room to grow. To the west, the research farm is a barrier. To the east, Clayton’s border runs into the sprawling Flowers Plantation community and to Grifols, Novo Nordisk and other industries protected against annexation by state law.

“One thing we deal with is Clayton being bounded as a town,” Biggs said.

Land around Clayton is going to continue to develop, so it’s important for the town to be able to encourage annexation in exchange for services, Biggs said.

“If we can’t provide service, we are going to end up with suburban sprawl,” he said.

In 1953, the state bought land on both sides of U.S. 70 Business near the Johnston-Wake line to replace a research farm in Wake County. Today, the farm, operated by N.C. State University, hosts plant-breeding programs for more than a dozen fruits, vegetables, wild flowers and forage crops. Students and scientists also conduct swine research there; the farm has about 300 hogs.

The farm is also home to an ECONet weather-reporting station that sends data to the State Climatology Office and the National Weather Service, which operates a 700-watt Doppler radar tower on site.

Charles Leffler, N.C. State’s vice chancellor for finance and business, said he had heard no specifics about Clayton’s annexation proposal but would be happy to discuss the matter with town leaders.

Leffler said NCSU and the N.C. Department of Agriculture operate research stations across the state to study plants and livestock under different conditions.

“What the Town of Clayton is proposing may not have any significant impact,” Leffler said.

“I would certainly hope they talk to those who own the land before they propose legislation,” Leffler added.

Biggs said he floated the annexation idea past Rep. Leo Daughtry, R-Johnston, a few weeks ago. Daughtry said he was shocked when he heard the town’s plan but understood the reasoning.

“The town can’t grow any other way is what I really think the problem is,” Daughtry said. “It’s the most logical way for them to grow, I believe.”

In addition to open lands, several homes outside the town limits also abut the research farm.

Biggs said he wants to make clear that the town is not interested in annexing any developed properties beyond the research farm.

Landowners can request annexation, but state law says towns can’t forcibly annex land unless voters in the targeted area approve the change in a referendum.

Biggs said as long as the research farm is an “obstacle to growth,” the town can’t plan for infrastructure improvements on tracts poised for development.

The town is already planning a Clayton-to-Raleigh sewer line that will be close to the research farm. The estimated $5.3 million pipeline, which will flow to Raleigh’s Neuse River treatment plant, will grow Clayton’s capacity by 1 million gallons per day.

Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104

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