A map showing potential building arrangements for the proposed Research Triangle Logistics Park in Hillsborough.

Terra Equity Inc., which is a division of Louisville, Ky.,-based Barrister Commercial Group, on July 15, submitted a plan for the development of a large piece of property in Hillsborough between I-40, Old N.C. 86 and Davis Road.

Research Triangle Logistics Park (RTLP) encompasses 161 acres of land centrally located within the North Carolina Research Triangle and within 20 minutes of the Raleigh-Durham Airport. 

The project has created a buzz of speculation and outcry from residents neighboring the potential project site.

But what exactly is plan for the site? The proposal submitted by Terra Equity ties the potential for such a project to the recent shortcomings laid bare by the pandemic. It touts a capacity for 2.25 million square feet of health technology, information sciences, scientific research and laboratories, among others.

“All the uses are consistent with existing county standards on what we had previously identified as being viable for our more intensive economic development districts,” said Michael Harvey, with Orange County planning. “That would include manufacturing, which would include food products and nonfood products. It would include warehousing and storage and distribution services. That could be parcel services, it could be fulfillment centers.”

The mere mention of a fulfillment center quickly brings to mind Amazon, but Harvey said he has no evidence to say it is or isn’t.

The submitted proposal also lists prohibited land uses. Those include animal slaughtering and processing, concrete bleaching plant, land fills, sawmills and leather and hide tanning. The list follows the Unified Development Ordinances of Orange County.

The proposal predicts RTLP will create facility investment of more than $150 million and will provide employment for up to 4,500 people globally within the

Raleigh-Durham MSA and, more specifically, within the Orange County-Town of Hillsborough economic area. 

While Terra Equity’s proposal includes approximately more than 2 million square feet of buildings area, Harvey said the group has asked for the opportunity to ultimately get to about 4 million square feet of allowable building area in the 160-acre site.

“One of the issues that our staff has identified is that it would require an updated or revised traffic impact analysis,” Harvey said. “One of the conditions is that they (Terra Equity) be allowed to do additional building square footage with the updated and approved transportation impact analysis. That document outlines internal and external traffic improvements that would be necessary to handle the anticipated vehicle load.”

The proposal sets aside 41 acres, or 25 percent of the total area to be open space, including preservation of the flood plane. 

“County land use regulations preclude development in the flood plane,” Harvey said.

“The flood plane, as it is currently depicted, would be preserved. The applicant would abide by flood plane buffers. We are one of the only communities that require a flood plane buffer.”

The RTLP plan is 12 acres larger than Settler’s Point, a proposal that went through a similar process in 2017 and was approved in 2018. Approval of RTLP would formally end the possibility of Settler’s Point, which never came to be.

“This project would effectively take over Settler’s Point. It’s larger,” said Harvey. “It’s more intensive. Setter’s Point, as approved in 2018, could be developed. It actually still is a viable project. RTLP, however, wants to change the land uses. They want to do more of a focus on light industrial research and fulfillment services than Settler’s Point did, and they obviously want a more intensive project. That necessitates the need to go back through this process and propose a new project.

Hillsborough and Orange County have determined what they would like to see here,” Harvey said. “The area, according to the Town of Hillsborough/Orange County Central Orange County land-use plan calls for two of the parcels are actually in what’s called an employment land-use category. The 12-acre parcel on Davis Road is proposed to be located in a suburban office land-use category. I honestly believe that the county and Hillsborough both independently and working together have identified what this area’s intended to be and look like.”

A Zoom meeting about the RTLP project was held Aug. 5. The planning department is holding a second meeting Aug. 19. The Board of Orange County Commissioners will vote on the proposal Sept. 15. 

“The Planning Board’s job is to determine compliance with the unified development ordinance and the county’s comprehensive plan, and essentially allow the applicant and those that support and oppose the project fair access to discuss the merits of it and ultimately to provide information and documentation to both planning board and elected officials so they can make an informed decision. And whether that decision is positive or negative at least will based on the facts of the application and the standards by which it is reviewed under,” Harvey said.

Terra Equity Inc. and Barrister Commercial Group did not return calls for this story.