Holly Springs pushes for land near U.S. 1

Apex looking at same area for light-industrial use

akenney@newsobserver.com May 22, 2012 

— Holly Springs sees a swath of land near U.S. 1 as prime real estate for another Novartis-sized business. So does Apex.

The tantalizing strip of hundreds of acres lies on Friendship Road, a largely rural but increasingly valuable area that either town could claim as its own. Both towns’ long-term plans list the same intersection as the potential center of a future light-industrial center near the Triangle Expressway, the under-construction toll road that could enable a development boom in the woods.

The two towns’ managers are in a top-level debate about how to divide the area around Holly Springs-New Hill and Friendship roads, which lies between their borders. And the matter is more than talk: Holly Springs already is priming the land for development by funding surveys, certifications and utility work on private land.

At a meeting last week, the Holly Springs Town Council agreed to pay a $9,000 surveying bill for the 150-acre “Baucom tract.” In exchange, the landowner will annex into the town. Then, if a business sets up shop on the land, the town will see a boon to its tax base.

“We’ve been looking out in that area for a long time,” said Jenny Mizelle, the town’s economic development director. Holly Springs already has spent close to a half-million dollars on plans to extend utility lines to the Friendship Site, a 130-acre parcel just south of the Baucom tract. Together, the 280 acres could become a business park, the town hopes.

Apex’s plans for the area are similar. Its Western Area Plan, published in 2008, calls for light industrial, institutional and office uses in the Friendship area that Holly Springs is eyeing. The town is willing to back off those plans, with one condition: Town Manager Bruce Radford wants the towns to confirm U.S. 1 as their permanent border.

Earlier this month, Apex and Holly Springs appeared ready to solidify the highway as their boundary line in southwest Wake County, but they haven’t yet reached an agreement. Holly Springs’ recent move on the Baucom tract could prove a point of friction, as much of the land is north of the informal U.S. 1 border.

“It’s something that we are continuing to discuss with them,” Radford said. “It has not been decided.”

Carl Dean, the town manager for Holly Springs, was not available for comment.

And if all this talk seems too abstract, just wait a few years. Holly Springs’ long-term plans say the Friendship area could be development-ready as early as 2015, and the prize on the line may be huge. A business the size of Novartis could generate millions in tax revenue each year.

When the Triangle Expressway opens this year, the Friendship area will have easy access to Cary, Apex, Durham and the airport. But, for now, the area remains rural because it isn’t connected to Apex or Holly Springs’ water and sewer systems.

To hook onto growth-sustaining utility lines, landowners in the borderlands must pledge allegiance, and taxes, to one of the towns. (Towns can forcibly annex land, but they tend to wield that power rarely.) There are no rules or pre-set boundaries to divide the land between the towns – often, the land goes to whichever municipality gets there first.

But there’s yet another wildcard in the mix. Progress Energy owns vast tracts of southwestern Wake County. If the company decides to sell, a whole new market could open.

On Friendship Road, the signs of change are few so far – just a billboard advertising 130 acres for sale. Betty Prince, a 25-year resident of the rural byway, echoes a sentiment common just beyond suburban Wake County’s edges: “They’re gonna do what they’re gonna do, but they need to leave some trees standing,” Prince said, leaning out her front door, white hair whipping in the wind. “This is country living.”

Kenney: 919-460-2608 or twitter.com/KenneyOnCary

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