Orange County

Carrboro eyes blue-collar jobs hub, but county commissioner says plan ‘blows off public’

Carrboro’s elected leaders want to build affordable commercial manufacturing and warehouse space along Old N.C. 86 but say they’ll need to come up with what one town staffer called “creative financing.”

The project could total $11 million, including all necessary roadwork and infrastructure, Community and Economic Development Director Anne Lafferty estimates.

“It’s going to take some more work to get this in the affordable range,” she told the Board of Aldermen on Tuesday.

Envisioned as a hub for local craftspeople, the project would bring up to 90,000 square feet of light industrial space to 22 acres near Lake Hogan Farms. Lafferty said that space could be used for woodworking, metal work, food processing, craft breweries, coffee roasteries and other small-scale services.

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The aldermen asked the Orange County commissioners to include the project in the county’s bid for a Golden LEAF Foundation grant, a program that disperses the state’s tobacco settlement funds to economic development projects intended to invigorate communities that once relied on tobacco production.

But at a meeting earlier this month, the commissioners voted 5-2 to leave Carrboro’s request for $820,000 out of the county’s grant proposal.

Orange County Commissioner Barry Jacobs called the project a “disrespectful proposal” that came to the board “not fully formed.” He said residents in the area had not been briefed on the plan, and that Carrboro officials failed to answer questions posed by commissioners at a joint meeting last year on how the project fits into the surrounding community.

Barry Jacobs

“We were essentially blown off. The proposal blows off the public and it blows off Orange County government,” said Jacobs. “I will never support this project until we get the info that we asked for and the public has the opportunity to know what’s going on where they live. We are the ones who represent the people who live on Old 86. Carrboro does not.”

The land lies just outside of Carrboro town limits, in a joint planning area where development proposals must go through public hearings before both the town and county boards, and each governing body must approve rezoning requests.

Several commissioners spoke in favor of the light industrial project, but said they feared crucial questions on planning, outreach, and the availability of matching funds could not be addressed before the Golden LEAF grant deadline of October 20.

Though funding for the project remains uncertain, the Carrboro leaders are determined to move forward.

“I am, and have been, fully committed to this,” said Alderwoman Jacquie Gist. “I think it’s the only way to retain the blue-collar industries that built this town.”

Jacquelyn Gist

The aldermen expressed interest in exploring a host of options including cooperative business models, grant opportunities, and the possibility of annexing the property.

In other business

The aldermen voted 5-1 Tuesday to extend the agreement with Main Street Partners to lease 90 public spaces in the parking deck at 300 E. Main St. for up to three years.

The town will pay $90,000 annually, though that payment could jump to $120,000 when the second hotel approved for the site opens. Plans for a five-story Hilton Garden Inn were approved in March 2016, but groundbreaking has been delayed due to weather and logistical issues.

Mayor Lydia Lavelle told the board the groundbreaking would likely happen next year and that construcion could last at least 18 months.

Elizabeth Friend: