Dan Rockaway

Dan Rockaway, who owns Sounds and Colors, sits at a table in one of the school’s playground areas.

 

Dan Rockaway is used to a lot of sounds coming from the playgrounds of his child development center on Davis Road in Hillsborough. At any given moment during the week, the sound of children laughing and screaming lifts and fades into the trees surrounding the place.

Rockaway opened Sounds and Colors, a Reggio Emilio-based, Spanish immersion daycare in 2010. During the nearly 11 years its been in business, Sounds and Colors has opened three other locations in Cary and Hillsborough. It has expanded its facility on Davis Road, which is the original school. In January of 2020, the school’s 78 slots were already filled for the year. In March, COVID came along and emptied 80 percent of those slots, temporarily silencing the playgrounds. 

Six months later, the school is back up to around half of its capacity. But the sounds of laughing and children is not what’s on Rockaway’s mind. It’s the sound of tractor trailer trucks idling just feet away on Davis Road.

“One reason we picked this place is that there are woods everywhere,” Rockaway said. “We love nature. Part of being a Reggio Emilia school is we like to spend as much time in nature as possible. The law for North Carolina is that kids in schools need to be outside for 30 minutes a day. We’re outside — depending on the age group — for two to three hours each day. We’re outside in the mornings, we’re outside in the afternoons. We love being outside. This is what attracts parents as well.”

He fears semis from the proposed Research Triangle Logistics Park, which would use Davis Road as its primary method for exiting, will create long back ups at the intersection of Davis Road and Old N.C. 86. The proposal for the development of 161 acres between I-40, Old N.C. 86 and Davis Road was recently approved by the Orange County Planning Board by a 6-4 vote. The plan will go before the Board of Orange County Commissioners for a hearing on Sept. 15.

In addition to the noise, Rockaway is concerned with how exhaust and other airborne pollutants could affect the children at his daycare. “Our main concern is for children who have strict action plans for health issues, and how this is going to impact them by having this development impact their environment,” he said. “What I’m talking about is a child with asthma, we’re outside all of the time in our large playground. Having diesel trucks idling feet away from the playground worries me.”

The RTLP proposal is calling for adding a traffic signal at the Davis Road and Old N.C. 86 intersection. Frank Csapo, CEO of Kentucky-based Barrister Commercial Group, said the improvements to the intersection would be more than sufficient to handle any increased traffic from the development, although exact traffic numbers are uncertain. Barrister is the company that has proposed the development.

Sounds and Colors rents space from its neighbors, Hillsborough United Church of Christ, a congregation that is celebrating 31 years at its location on 14 areas of tree-filled land along Davis Road. Members of the church council have raised issues about the potential negative effects of RTLP, particularly with increased traffic. The church’s property would likely be directly across from the proposed driveway out of the development.

“This is a country church,” said council member Russell Knop. “We’re very rural. And all of a sudden this is going to have a significant impact. We use the woods. We have walking paths and meditation areas on the property. Those would be negatively impacted by having that much traffic.”

The church has 125 members, averaging about 60 members in attendance on Sundays.

Most of the 161 acres that would be the site of RTLP was, in 1981, designated as an economic development district. But despite this, the church council believes what the area looks like now compared with 40 years ago is cause for reconsideration.

“The character of everything around this piece of land has changed,” said Jo Massey. “It’s been 40 years. The original economic development district that they wanted way back then is no longer appropriate here. Things have changed, and that plan hasn’t. That’s the problem.”

The church members say many of their concerns with the development and the potential for truck traffic has to do with the health and well-being of the children who attend Sounds and Colors next door. And since the rent from the childcare center helps fund the church, it has an interest in the any possible financial impact on the business.

“I had three parents reach out to me to see if I knew about the RTLP,” Rockaway said, “and then there’s a bunch of them that have been contacting county commissioners. I talked with a commissioner last week and they said they’d received some emails from families that bring children to Sounds and Colors.”

He said, in normal times, all available slots at the school are filled. Families bring their children from all over the area, seeking the Reggio experience and the natural setting. Rockaway fears losing families because of increased traffic and difficulties getting in and out of the school for drop-off and pick-up.

“Also, the overall noise,” he said. “Trucks are loud. We’re outside. Some children are sensitive to noise. And the landscape. There’s all these wooded lots around here. To go from beautiful trees and fresh air to a development with more than two million square feet of warehouse space kind of changes the scenery. So, yes, this would definitely impact our business.”

Rockaway and the members of the Hillsborough United Church of Christ council say they’re not anti-development, but want the right kind of development for the area. They said the service road that runs along the site parallel with the I-40 should be improved to provide entry and exits for the trucks. 

Rockaway said when he opened Sounds and Colors he was not aware of the potential for the development of the site until Settler’s Point was approved. That plan, which included retail, office and warehousing, never came to be. It also didn’t include a 12-acre parcel that runs near the corner of Davis Road and Old N.C. 86.

“We provide income to the church,” Rockaway said. "Not only is it (RTLP) going to impact 75 families that we have at our school at any given time, but it’s going to impact the church and its congregation as well."