Politics & Government

Transfer station sites narrowed to two

CHAPEL HILL — Orange County commissioners have narrowed their focus for a new waste transfer station to two sites west of Orange Grove Road.

One is a 143-acre site, the other about 43 acres. Commissioners appeared likely to choose the bigger site late Thursday before shifting gears late in the process and deciding to more closely examine both options. Commissioner Barry Jacobs said he wants to do so in part for better negotiating leverage should the county need to buy land.

"We don't want to be held hostage by one property owner who, by some indications, thinks he has us over a barrel," Jacobs said, referring to Dennis Howell, who owns the 143-acre tract that county officials had, earlier this week, named the best site for a new waste facility.

Residents objected, voicing concerns about large waste trucks traveling on small, country roads as well as potential environmental damage and a change to the rural character of the area. Some said they'd fight the decision in court. Many asked the board to delay the decision and reopen a site search. The other site that will now be investigated is also off Orange Grove Road on land owned by the Orange Water and Sewer Authority.

"That way, we wouldn't be upsetting a pristine site," Jacobs said. The transfer station is needed in 2011, when the landfill is expected to be full.

This week, Howell told county officials he wants to keep a portion of the land near N.C. 54 and sell the remaining 143 acres for $3 million, or $21,000 an acre.

The land is a few miles west of Carrboro near the Alamance County line. County Manager Laura Blackmon recommended the parcel earlier this week, and one of its attractions was its willing seller. Blackmon’s recommendation has followed a year-long process that has been carefully scrutinized by residents of the rural southwest corner of the county.

Howell would require the county to access the property via Teer Road, which would mean garbage trucks and long-haul tractor trailers would have to drive on Orange Grove Road or Stanford Road to reach the site from N.C. 54. Direct access to a major roadway such as N.C. 54 has long been a priority for the county.

As a condition of the sale, Howell would also require the county to rezone his 8.1-acre parcel for immediate commercial development within five years.

In a letter to Solid Waste Director Gayle Wilson, Howell demanded that the county shield his smaller site from the transfer station with an eight-foot landscaping wall, and maintain a 200-foot vegetative buffer and 500-foot building setbacks from all neighbors.

Howell offered an installment plan with 7 percent interest that would have the county paying $3.5 million over five years or $4.1 million over 10 years. He also offered to trade the land for a comparable county-owned property.

He would not accept a $3 million cash payment unless he can roll the proceeds over into the purchase of another property and avoid paying taxes on the sale.