It’s only been a month since the county approved the controversial Settler’s Point development, but another plan is in the works to allow more commercial development south of town.
Settler’s Point will bring 1.2 million square feet of light industrial, manufacturing and research projects to Old N.C. 86 and Interstate 40, plus retail, high-intensity offices, restaurants and a 200-room hotel.
The area is part of the county’s 637-acre Hillsborough Economic Development District – one of three areas the county designated over 20 years ago for commercial development.
Building plans will be designed and submitted to the county – or the town if the properties are annexed – once there are commercial tenants. Orange County officials said potential tenants have been looking at the site.
A third proposed phase for Settler’s Point was removed from the final plan. It would have expanded the Hillsborough district by roughly 80 acres to the edge of the county’s rural buffer, an area where commercial development and water and sewer services are restricted.
The area currently is zoned for rural residential development.
The county and the town of Hillsborough have continued to explore a possible district expansion. The Town Board could decide in late March whether to extend water and sewer services. The Orange County Board of Commissioners also would have to approve the change.
However, the commissioners decided Thursday to pause their deliberations and give staff time to set up public-education events about the district and the approval process for later this year.
Many neighbors opposed the Settler’s Point master plan that was approved in January. They’re woried about light and noise, the potential effects on the environment, and especially, traffic.
Those same concerns have been raised about the proposed district expansion, which would allow commercial development closer to homes and near the Davis Road-Old N.C. 86 intersection, where traffic already is a problem at peak commuting times.
Commissioners Chairman Mark Dorosin said the county needs a new process to engage the public in the conversation, since the economic development district has lain fallow for over two decades.
“My own belief is part of the problem is the district was set up a long time ago, and there was nothing ever done,” Dorosin said. “So while there were still some people who were there when that happened, by pattern and practice it appeared nothing was going to be done with it, and so when people found out something was going to be done with it, they seemed surprised."
The proposal hasn’t been abandoned, he said, but the commissioners want to be responsive to the neighbors’ concerns.
“It wasn’t so much that we heard people saying we don’t want this here,” Dorosin said, “but it was more the concerns among the commissioners that even though went through a process as described in the ordinance, that there was some disconnect between what people understood about was happening, what could happen, and the actual coming forward of this project.”
The boards agreed that if the district is expanded and the land is developed, they would allow only suburban office projects there. The previous plan from the Settler’s Point developer was for a senior housing community.