Residents will get to weigh in again next year on a multimillion-dollar plan to bring industry and business to the corner of Old N.C. 86 and Interstate 40.
The Settler’s Point project would cover 195 acres of Orange County’s Hillsborough Economic Development District. About 70 percent of the land could be developed, said Jim Parker, a Hillsborough developer representing Old NC 86 Partners.
The plan, which could generate roughly $3 million in annual property, sales and hotel occupancy taxes – about 1.5 cents on the county’s property tax rate – has two parts:
▪ District 1: 1.2 million square feet of light industrial, manufacturing and research west of Old N.C. 86
▪ District 2: A commercial area with up to 261,800 square feet of high-intensity office uses, retail, restaurants and services, and a 200-room hotel east of Old N.C. 86
The Orange County Board of Commissioners held the first public hearing on the master plan Tuesday and voted to continue the discussion Jan. 23. The original plan included a 77-acre senior residential community, but that was delayed and, if submitted again, would be reviewed separately.
While a master plan lets the commissioners limit the type of development that could be allowed at Settler’s Point, the plan is to annex the project into the town of Hillsborough. That would give the Town Board and town staff the final say over the development allowed.
Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens said the long-term plan is to avoid sprawl by channeling development into compact, connected communities. The town “fully supports” commercial development at Settler’s Point, but the type of commercial use and how it gets approved matters, he said.
“Primarily the retail component is much larger than we would envision,” Stevens said. “We are concerned ... what’s proposed potentially could be double the size that Churton Grove (shopping center) could be – and this could really damage the overall retail viability of other places in Hillsborough.”
Hillsborough’s potential to ultimately counter what the commissioners decide raised concerns for Commissioner Barry Jacobs. He noted how the governments planned for the Waterstone development to have more commercial development but the town let it be more residential.
“I would like to ask the Hillsborough board to consider writing us a letter saying that understanding that circumstances change – and words change and boards change, and you can’t bind future boards – that you’ll abide by whatever it is we decide, as opposed to using (extension of town) water and sewer to prevent things from happening here that we approve,” Jacobs said.
What could be built was the biggest concern for residents who spoke at the hearing.
Cheri Apple, a former town planner, said ready-to-build sites have lain fallow for years waiting for tenants. There are many questions about what could happen once the commissioners sign off on a plan, she said, and learning more about what’s possible might ease the concerns.
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“Under the right conditions with the right tenants, there could be a really good opportunity here, but those are big caveats,” she said.
Others worried the developers haven’t considered much how the project could affect the surrounding rural character, from the environment to increased traffic, noise and light pollution.
There’s no going back once a decision is made, Ronald Sieber said.
“The proposed development districts do not adequately anticipate and therefore do not protect against the adverse visual and aural impact of such a development on the rural and residential neighborhoods that immediately surround it,” he said. “At the very least, the law of unintended – or overlooked – consequences will very likely change the ambiance of this semi-rural community.”
He would have the same questions if the project was in his neighborhood, Parker said, but his team designed the project in step with the county’s 30-year vision for the land. They are willing to negotiate for a wider landscape buffer along property lines, he said, and would submit traffic and environmental studies with each site plan.
“These light industrial users very rarely will go buy raw land and do a whole deal from ground up,” he said. “They look for site-ready. They look for somebody else to do heavy lifting so that they can come in and build their building or build their warehouses or build their facilities, and then start paying taxes.
He can’t ensure the land won’t stay vacant, Parker said, but the goal is to serve interstate traffic and recover tax dollars being lost to Alamance and Durham counties, not to compete with the Daniel Boone shopping center or downtown businesses.
Suggested uses have included research, and computer, electronics, pharmaceuticals, metals, furniture, and food manufacturers.
Steve Brantley, Orange County’s economic development director, mused that the likely investor could be a “high-caliber business” or something compatible with nearby development. Hillsborough doesn’t have large lots needed for corporate offices, he added.
“Settler’s Point would represent not only for Hillsborough but for the county the ability to have attractive land to play off of the upscale environment of UNC Hospitals, of Durham Technical Community College, that would appeal to the livability of our community, have direct interstate access,” where passing drivers could see their presence from the highway, he said.
▪ Name: Settler’s Point
▪ Applicant: Old NC 86 Partners
▪ Size: 195 acres, plus 77 acres in future phase
▪ Height: Up to six stories
▪ Proposed use: 148 acres light industrial, manufacturing and research; 47 acres high-intensity office uses, retail, services and a hotel
▪ Future use: Up to 760 units of age-restricted senior housing on 77 acres
▪ Current zoning: Economic Development Hillsborough-2 (limited office), EDH-4 (office/retail) and EDH-5 (research and manufacturing)
▪ Proposed zoning: Master Planned Development-Conditional Zoning
▪ Traffic: Bike lanes, sidewalks, transit stops and upgraded streets, including more traffic and turn lanes on Old N.C. 86, wider I-40 ramps, and four traffic signals – at the I-40 ramps, the Service Road parallel to I-40, and the Davis Road-Old N.C. 86 intersection
▪ Utilities: Hillsborough and Orange County are working now on water and sewer lines that could serve District 1. Plans haven’t been made for water and sewer to District 2, but the developer plans to pay for that infrastructure