Johnston County

Clayton promises kids can still play soccer while making land-swap deal for industry

Earlier this month the Clayton Town Council approved a land swap with the YMCA aimed at finding a balance between youth sports and major industry.

For more than a decade, soccer fields on Powhatan Road have hosted countless games and practices, but the ongoing expansion of Novo Nordisk and Grifols has put a squeeze on land. A wooded area near the fields is a good candidate for a planned wastewater pretreatment facility needed to dilute manufacturing byproducts before they can move on to the county’s sewage-treatment treatment plant.

In March, Clayton spent nearly $1 million on a piece of property on Amelia Church Road, which will one day be the YMCA’s new soccer complex. Clayton swapped this land for the Powhatan property, which the town claims is worth $1 million but county tax records assess at less than half that. Kids will continue to play soccer on the Powhatan Road fields for at least the next two years as construction plans for the pretreatment facility are finalized.

Despite the council approving the land swap, Clayton is still figuring out the details, town attorney Katherine Ross said. Town Manager Adam Lindsay said Clayton could retain ownership of the land on Powhatan Road and lease it to the operators of the pretreatment facility, or the town could sell the property in an effort to recoup all of the money it paid for the land on Amelia Church Road.

One speaker during a public hearing made sure Clayton kept the soccer playing kids in mind as it paved the way for industry. Derek Everwin of Glen Laurel said the Powhatan Road property, which houses more than a half-dozen soccer fields, had been cultivated over years into a flat, lush grass playing surface. He said he was concerned teams would be forced from the site before something comparable could be built on Amelia Church Road.

“They spent a lot time over the last four to six years really developing the grass on this property to be amenable to a soccer fields, and that’s cost them a lot of money,” Everwin said. “It will take another four years to develop another property with the same kind of grass. This property is a really nice, flat piece of property, and what we’re getting is going to have quite an increase in slope and they’ll need some time to work on that.”

Clayton Mayor Jody McLeod said the two-year guarantee the town is putting on the fields is likely an underestimate, and he expects fields on Amelia Church to be ready when they’re needed.

“I think the two-year number is under-promising and over-delivering,” McLeod said. “We don’t want to over-commit and not be able to see that all the way through. Since the beginning of all of this, the one goal has been to make sure kids in the program are least affected as possible.”

Councilman Art Holder made the motion to approve the land swap and voted along with the rest of the council, but he was the only one to express trepidation about the route Clayton was taking.

“Personally, I have some hesitation on this,” Holder said. “This is new ground, and to a certain degree we’re sticking our necks out before we see what happens down the road.”

Holder said the number of moving pieces in the deal, including Novo and the Triangle YMCA, took control away from Clayton in a situation in which it has a $1 million stake.

“I am a little uneasy about the town’s financial exposure and lack of full control,” Holder said by email.

The YMCA purchased the Powhatan Road property in 2001 with intentions of catering to both Clayton and Smithfield residents. Since then, industry grew up around the fields and the population of Johnston County shifted its weight to the west. Next to the proposed complex site on Amelia Church Road sits a series of apartment buildings and subdivisions. That land is also a shorter distance to the quickly growing Cleveland community near Interstate 40 and N.C. 42.