At a recent town meeting, residents complained about the traffic and safety concerns a large housing development could bring to the northern area of town near Hilltop-Needmore and Sunset Lake roads.
Town officials tried to explain that the territory is one of Fuquay-Varina’s seven regions known as “preferred growth areas,” but many protestors seemed confused.
Fuquay-Varina has had preferred growth areas for the better part of a decade, but little has been done to advertise them outside the development community.
Put simply, they’re where the town wants to see more growth – especially the types of growth outlined in a new 2015-2025 Economic Development Master Plan, approved earlier this month.
The seven areas mostly surround the heart of town. Three are along U.S. 401 both north and south of the heart of town. Two are on N.C. 55, two are on Hilltop/Hilltop-Needmore Road, and the seventh is west of town on N.C. 42.
“I think you will see nice retail centers come in,” Mayor John Byrne said. “I think you will see housing, and hopefully you will see some economic development from our industry.”
The recently approved development plan contains six initiatives. Those include greater density in downtown as well as a focus on bringing more homes and commercial and retail development to the preferred growth areas on the outskirts of town.
Jim Seymour, the town’s economic development director, said the top items on his wish list include a mixed-use development downtown and a large factory to bring jobs into what is now mostly a bedroom community.
“I would want to see the next advanced manufacturing firm that uses advanced technology and hires 250 people, paying well above the average wage,” he said.
And Fuquay-Varina’s location, he said, is perfect for that and other types of non-residential growth.
“We really have the opportunity to be a mini hub for the Research Triangle Park and for Fort Bragg,” he said.
Growth and traffic
Mike Sorensen, the planning director, said the town identified the preferred growth areas in 2006 while preparing a bond referendum to build Judd Parkway and extend water and sewer lines to attract development.
By having such areas identified before the recession struck, Sorensen said, Fuquay-Varina kept growing while other small towns suffered, since developers became more selective about where to build.
“When you can look at a site and see, ‘Oh, that’s part of their preferred growth area,’ that tells them the town is willing to work for them,” Sorensen said.
The town sends that signal by extending water, sewer and other infrastructure to the preferred growth areas. That’s what the town did before leaders approved the development at Hilltop-Needmore at Sunset Lake, a decision that angered residents.
Extending water and sewer doesn’t guarantee development, and the town isn’t allowed to stop a development outside the preferred growth areas that meets Fuquay-Varina’s various requirements and regulations.
But getting utilities put in place can be costly and time-consuming, and developers typically want to move fast.
“While you can’t exactly tell a developer where to develop, you can steer the interest,” Town Manager Adam Mitchell said. “And that’s what were trying to do, steer the interest to those preferred growth areas.”
Developers are sometimes required to make minimum levels of investment or pay for road improvements in those areas.
Mitchell said that’s important given the state’s inability to fund enough road work, especially since he predicts Fuquay-Varina will double in size in the next two decades.
“I think in five years we’ll be pushing 30,000 in population, and 20 years from now it’s not unreasonable to think we’d be in excess of 40,000 to 45,000 in population,” Mitchell said.
And while several of the preferred growth areas will likely see mostly residential development, others will see a good amount of commercial and possibly even industrial growth, especially along U.S. 401.
“We’re going to be aggressive in the next couple years to attract quality development,” Mitchell said.