Hillsborough development threatens rural character – Matthew Kostura

Editor’s note: This letter was originally sent to the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

I am writing to register my deep reservations regarding the planned development of the Settler's Point Master Planned Development Conditional Zoning application.

My concerns are based on three straightforward assertions:

1. The entire development is predicated on access to Interstate 40 with little integration into the surrounding community and because of that …

2. The rural residential look and feel of the area will be greatly compromised by certain types of development that are allowed by the current zoning permits and therefore ...

3. Inappropriate development will have a material impact on many more residents than those abutting the property and within the 1,000-foot spec for notification.

Based on the narrative, the development’s District 1 will be the first tract developed for so-called light industrial, research or warehouse use. Of the three uses I would hope the county could concede that warehousing would be inappropriate. Certainly a light manufacturing facility; eg; the Morinaga facility or perhaps a local microbrewery or distillery that could use expansion. Even a food-preparation facility to allow local farmers to process foods for local restaurants would be better than the standard warehouse.

District 2 is yet another cookie cutter hotel, chain restaurants and high intensity retail/office complex. Perhaps there might be demand for a hotel in the area, but does the county want to become saddled with idle restaurant property in the near future? Casual dining as a category is doing poorly, with a change in drinking and eating habits. Local pubs with microbrews and restaurants with locally authentic food are in and corporate fast food is out. And frankly Hillsborough itself is establishing itself as something of a destination for both, so would it not be reasonable to attract those types of clients or better still attempt to get some of the transit traffic on I-40 into those same local restaurants?

District 3 requires a rezoning of R1 land. The Settlers Ridge Properties have never sold and for good reason; they are too close to the highway and the noise in that area is fairly high. No one wants to build a $400K home next to a highway. So instead, a mixed-use office high-density housing complex (read apartments) and a lower-density senior living complex are planned.

I can see four major problems with this development that if not appropriately configured will absolutely wreck the surrounding rural residential area: traffic, lights, noise and visual aesthetic.

1. Traffic would be a major problem on Old 86 and likely back on to Davis Road, which would ultimately have a cut through to allow alternate access to the parcels.

2. Lighting is a concern with many homeowners in the area that appreciate dark skies. That is a quintessential part of the character of the area. Again, some types of developments (eg office or research) can mitigate these problems, but others virtually demand intrusive lighting (gas stations, restaurants, warehousing). Standing lights are a concern.

3. Noise. More traffic, more noise and not much more needs to be said in that regard. Also the wooded areas provide a near complete buffer for traffic noise from I-40 for nearly all parcels on Davis Road. Removal of that buffer will degrade the homeowner experience.

4. Visual aesthetic. The good news here is that most of this is completely under control of the developer and the county. But I would hope that the design criteria would strike the use of a 50ft 20x20 sign for Distict 2. Again, that would be wholly inappropriate for the area. Old 86 is a scenic drive and the northern most part of that highway should have as much protection as is possible from an aesthetic point of view. Likewise, I-40 has a very clear and clean visual aesthetic. Driving east from Efland where I-40 splits from I-85, there is no signage of that size on the road until one arrives in Wake County. Much care has been taken to remove standing billboards of any type from intruding on the visual experience of the highway. TheI-40 corridor is, visually, one of the nicest highways in state in this regard. In Orange County it has many aspects of a boulevard and it should be kept that way.

I think that it is fair to say that most homeowners on Davis Road, and in this area of the county, view the exit at I-40 and Old N.C. 86 as their entranceway to their homes. At present that entrance way is rural and quiet. The county now wants to allow the placement of three large developments literally right on our front steps. I cannot argue against development, but I would hope that the county and the developers respect the character of the area. One only has to drive west into Alamance County to visualize what I am most concerned with: another highway exit built to satisfy transit economics but completely disrupting the character of the surrounding local area.

Matthew Kostura lives in Hillsborough.