Clayton News-Star

Clayton Council OKs N.C. 42 East project

However Clayton changes over the next decade or two, N.C. 42 will play a role.

From Flowers Plantation to the Cleveland community, the highway has fueled the development of some of the area’s densest subdivisions and attracted significant commercial projects. On Monday, the Clayton Town Council approved the next piece of the N.C. 42 puzzle, a mixed-use development that will bring a retail anchor, other storefronts, 240 apartments and a self-storage facility to N.C.42 East near Glen Laurel Road.

Former Gov. James B. Hunt and his brother, Robert, own the 45-acre piece of densely forested land, which is near East Clayton Community Park, the Glen Laurel community and the Fox Ridge neighborhood, an older, large-lot subdivision off of N.C. 42. The council approved a rezoning from industrial to mixed use and a plan for 180,000 square feet of commercial space, an apartment complex and the self-storage facility.

The project moved through Clayton’s planning process with little objection, but a handful of neighbors spoke out Monday night, lamenting lost trees, cleared land, noise and traffic.

Councilman Michael Grannis told them it was sometimes challenging to balance a developer’s plans with what had existed before, but he said change was coming to N.C. 42.

“I appreciate your concerns and have some compassion for some of the issues you brought up,” Grannis said. “If a developer meets the criteria in the town’s ordinance, we have little room to vote against it. If we vote against it, we leave the door open for a lawsuit. You’re probably going to see a change, and I know that’s difficult.”

Trish Harrington lives across the river from the Hunt property and worries the development could spell doom for Clayton’s scenic views and wildlife.

“I’ve seen baby hawks hatch in my backyard for the past three years,” she said. “My neighbor took a picture of a bald eagle on the river. We’re not going to see that anymore. I don’t want a town of cement; I want a town of beauty.”

N.C. 42 was headed for a change before the Hunt project came to Clayton. Over the next couple years, the N.C. Department of Transportation will pursue right-of-way acquisition ahead of a 2018 widening of the highway to four lanes.

The developer will build the mixed-use project to the road’s future standards and will include three entrances, including an intersection with a traffic light. With heavy traffic in to and out of Flowers Plantation, some felt the road project should come before the development.

“You need to get the road fixed first,” Fox Ridge resident Steve Hall said about the challenges of turning right into his neighborhood. “Sometimes you can look in your rearview mirror and tell the person behind you isn’t going to slow down. I’ll have to miss my own neighborhood, go up and turn around and come back just so I’m not rear-ended.”

Traffic engineer Rynal Stephenson said the DOT would approve traffic signals for N.C. 42 East once traffic numbers warrant them, but not before then and not just to serve customers of the self-storage facility.

“The problem is perception,” Stephenson said. “They (the DOT) don’t want to put in a light and once one car pulls up, it stops traffic on 42 for just that one car.”

Once a traffic signal is in, however, Fox Ridge residents might find it easier to get in and out of their neighborhood, with the light holding up traffic.

The developer has already submitted to the town plans for the storage units and the apartments, named The Pines. Plans for the commercial space will follow, said Garry Walston of Bass, Nixon and Kennedy, the project’s developer.

The 240 apartments will be spread over 10 three-story buildings and include a clubhouse and pool. The Clayton Planning Board will review plans for the apartment complex and self-storage facility on Dec. 28.

The developer has not yet announced the shopping center’s anchor, but Walston thinks it will fall short of the “big box” designation, suggesting perhaps a third grocery store in a five-mile stretch of N.C. 42 East.

Mayor Jody McLeod pointed to Clayton’s near-capacity downtown in his support of the project, saying Clayton needs more retail space

“There’s a great benefit in the additional retail,” McLeod said. “There’s a huge need for commercial development in the town and a demand for more space for small businesses.”

Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson