The developers of a 195-acre development on Old N.C. 86 in Orange County now have a plan they can market to prospective commercial and industrial tenants.
The Orange County Board of Commissioners approved the master plan Tuesday for Settler’s Point, just south of Interstate 40, after debating how much landscaping should shield neighbors from noise, lights and traffic.
The project could bring 1.2 million square feet of light industrial, manufacturing and research projects to the west side of Old N.C. 86, and roughly 78,540 square feet of retail and up to 183,260 square feet of high-intensity office uses, restaurants and a 200-room hotel to the east side.
Commissioners Barry Jacobs and Renee Price advocated for more details about future retail tenants and more landscaping than proposed along I-40 to “at least try to make an environment that is satisfactory for people who have to live in the area,” Price said.
Jacobs, who noted the county is legally required to approve projects meeting its standards, also acknowledged residents’ frustration with not having more details and feeling that their input did not matter.
“I do think that the lack of specificity on the retail side is disquieting, because it was an unfortunate turn of phrase to say it’s going to be essentially like any other interstate exit,” Jacobs said. “What’s the point of having that? We already have enough of that north of (I-85). We would like to see something of a higher quality.”
Jim Parker, representing developer Old NC 86 LLC, told Jacobs he doesn’t know yet what retail might be built, but that it would serve primarily interstate traffic. County rules also allow land uses that include research, and computer, electronics, pharmaceuticals, metals, furniture, and food manufacturers.
Detailed building plans could be submitted to the county for approval – or the town of Hillsborough, if the property is annexed in return for water and sewer services – over the next few years. Annexation also could require the development to meet additional town standards.
One potential conflict is the amount of retail. Hillsborough town officials have talked about limiting retail to 8 percent of the commercial district, or about 20,000 square feet, to lessen the impact on businesses in the Churton Street and downtown business districts.
Some commissioners downplayed the potential conflict. Some commercial project would have been built on the site eventually, they said, since it’s in the 637-acre Hillsborough Economic Development District, one of three districts created over 20 years ago to bring businesses and jobs to the county’s highway corridors.
The Hillsborough EDD also includes the Waterstone business and residential development, UNC Hospitals’ Hillsborough Campus and Durham Technical Community College’s Orange County Campus.
Commissioner Mia Burroughs noted “anti-development policies” in the towns and county have contributed to some serious budget challenges. The board’s responsibility is balancing a need for jobs and tax revenues with community values like preserving the environment, she said.
Settler’s Point will meet county standards for stormwater, lighting and other details, and also include new traffic lanes, stoplights, bus stops and sidewalks. It also will benefit the county’s lower-income residents, Commissioner Mark Marcoplos said.
“I think about Orange County with about a 20 percent poverty rate,” he said. “We do a lot to help people in need, as we should, but there’s nothing that helps them better than having a job. I feel like that is a huge responsibility for us to look for ways to create employment for people and this does that.”