A developer thinks 272 acres near Interstate 40 is the right place for more jobs, more corporate taxpayers, and more options for travelers seeking food, shelter and gas.
The $329.6 million Settler’s Point Master Planned Development, if approved, would occupy a large swath of the 637-acre Hillsborough Economic Development District, located just south of Hillsborough on Old N.C. 86.
The Hillsborough EDD is one of three economic development districts created over 20 years ago to bring businesses and jobs to the county’s highway corridors; the others border Alamance and Durham counties. However, there has been little interest from developers, in part because the districts lacked water and sewer.
The Orange County Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing Tuesday, Nov. 14, on two phases of Settler’s Point. A third phase has been postponed.
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Old NC 86 Partners, the developer behind Settler’s Point, expects it to generate roughly $6 million in property, sales and hotel occupancy taxes at full buildout – important for a county where homeowners pay 80 percent of the property taxes. The national average is 44 percent, according to the nonprofit Tax Foundation.
They’ve been working for three years to assemble the pieces, said Jim Parker, president of Summit Design and Engineering. The surrounding area – largely agricultural and residential – is south of the Waterstone neighborhood and the Durham Tech and UNC Health Care campuses. The development team sees it as an interstate market that also could serve future development to the south, Parker said.
“It’s a great interchange, probably one of the best interchanges from Greensboro to the end of the Research Park, because of the way it sits,” he said. “It really has a lot of visibility.”
A master plan
The plan now includes:
▪ District 1: 1.2 million square feet of light industrial, manufacturing and research on 148 acres along Interstate 40 and west of Old N.C. 86.
▪ District 2: A commercial area south of I-40 and east of Old N.C. 86 with up to 261,800 square feet of high-intensity office uses, retail and services, including restaurants and a 200-room hotel on roughly 47 acres. The developer is open to allowing schools, but the county has not decided if that would be allowed.
The third district – roughly 81 acres south of District 2 – was slated for up to 760 units of age-restricted senior housing, from independent-living patio homes to assisted living and nursing homes. Hillsborough’s concerns about providing water and sewer service to more residential construction delayed that phase.
The town and 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 Parker said the developer would pay for that infrastructure.
The master plan process gives the county an opportunity to address community concerns, including potential effects on traffic, the environment and neighbors.
The developer is proposing a six-story building height limit and new streets, bike lanes, sidewalks and transit stops within the project and along the Old N.C. 86 corridor. The North Carolina Department of Transportation could require other road improvements, 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.
An approved master plan would allow them to sell lots to developers of individual projects, Parker said. A Settler’s Point Architectural Review Board – including development officials, building and design experts – would review each project, and county staff would approve or deny those building plans.
Not knowing what could be built on the land and when is a big concern for neighbors, said Bob Bundshuh, who lives nearby off Davis Road. There seems to be a lack of oversight and forethought about available sites, including near the Walmart at N.C. 86 and Interstate 85 where zoning and utilities are in place, he said.
“If you look around Hillsborough or even around the area, there are several sites already sitting abandoned or sitting empty that just accumulate trash right now and are just an eyesore, but they are ready to have somebody come in and do it,” he said.
Neighbor Joan Kalnitsky said she would prefer something built for residents. Neighbors are worried about bright lights and noise infiltrating their dark, rural night skies and the added traffic from big trucks and 24/7 gas stations, retail and restaurants, she and Bundshuh said.
The developer shouldn’t be left to make critical decisions, Kalnitsky said.
“I would just like to think that the county commissioners are patient enough to provide a plan that in five or 10 years, when there are businesses there, they’re not regretful,” she said. “There are enough inconsistencies in the way it is presented to those of us who are not perhaps used to dealing with county commissioners and planning boards that it doesn’t add up.”
The commissioners barred more than two dozen industrial uses from the district in the last year, including wood product and weapons manufacturing. Uses that have been suggested include research and lighter manufacturing, such as computer and electronics, pharmaceuticals, metal production, furniture, food and beverage bottling. The county’s zoning rules are being updated now to comply with a recent court decision.
Parker said the developer wants to work with the county and provide a good tax base and wages. The area is unlikely to compete with Hillsborough’s unique downtown businesses, he said, but could spark redevelopment along Churton Street, from I-85 to downtown.
That area “is ripe for redevelopment,” he said. “There’s a lot of fast-food businesses along that portion of town. This will give them an opportunity and a place to go that maybe has more traffic or has better visibility.”
The Orange County Board of Commissioners will discuss Settler's Point at a public hearing at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14, in the Whitted Building, 300 W. Tryon St., Hillsborough.