Orange County

Carrboro considers light manufacturing on Old NC 86 highway

The Board of Aldermen is exploring the idea of bringing a light-manufacturing center to 22 acres of town-owned land on Old N.C. 86 near Lake Hogan Farms.

Located one mile north of Calvander, the parcel was purchased by Carrboro in 2001 as a new site for the town’s Public Works Department.

That option has since been abandoned, but town planners now say the location could house up to 90,000 square feet of warehouse, manufacturing, or commercial development.

The property lies just outside town limits, in Carrboro’s planning jurisdiction.

Currently zoned Rural Residential, it would need to be rezoned to Office and Assembly to allow light manufacturing. Economic and Community Development Department Director Annette Lafferty said the town could potentially annex the land without affecting surrounding properties.

Lafferty said there is significant demand for commercial space for food processing, furniture construction, metal working, and pottery, among other uses.

There’s definitely an interest in this type of space, she told the aldermen last week, though questions remain about what the town’s role should be in developing the land.

A key goal, if the project moves forward, would be to make sure the space remains affordable for the small-business owners and artisans it’s designed for. One proposal would be for the town to retain control of the land by leasing it to a developer, who would then build and lease space to others.

“However we structure things, we want to make sure that it remains affordable in perpetuity,” Town Manager David Andrews said. “To sell it outright to the private sector, then you couldn’t control what the lease rates might be, and you’ve kind of defeated your whole purpose of affordable commercial.”

Alderwoman Jacquie Gist suggested the town should also explore how ownership by a small business co-operative might work.

“I think people would rather own their buildings than be renting them, so some kind of co-op rent-to-own arrangement, where maybe the town could hold the lease, or somehow help the co-op finance the purchase of it, gives the community as a whole a lot more control over what happens there, rather than putting it out to bid to a developer,” she said.

Board members were generally enthusiastic about the concept, though several noted traffic would be a major concern along the the narrow, two lane, rural highway.

“For any idea that’s ever talked along this corridor, the first thing that comes up is traffic,” said Alderwoman Bethany Chaney.

Old N.C. 86 is maintained by the N.C. Department of Transportation, making it more complicated to add turn lanes or other traffic-mitigation measures.

Still, Chaney said the potential for more commercial traffic, along with additional development along nearby Homestead and Eubanks Roads, might make this an ideal time to lobby the state for changes to the road, a popular north-south connector between Carrboro and Hillsborough.

Alderman Sammy Slade said he hopes to collaborate with Orange County’s economic development office on funding to extend a sewer line and possibly a natural gas line to the property.

“I expect for the county to allocate funds to support this, given the quarter-cent sales tax and the type of economic development that they’re encouraging through that,” said Slade, referring to the 2011 referendum in which Orange County voters approved an additional quarter cent sales tax. Half of the revenue from that tax is dedicated to economic development infrastructure projects and efforts to recruit and expand businesses throughout the county.

Town staffers will continue to flesh out the project through conversations with neighbors, businesses, and other stakeholders. The board has not yet set a date for further discussion.

Elizabeth Friend: