Gerald Scarlett points to a small cemetery just outside the front door of his house that sits near the end of his driveway running for a half mile from Old Highway 86 near Davis Road.
“I have the family cemetery,” Scarlett said. “There are men, women and children buried there.”
He added that right across Old 86 and directly across from a proposed development is a predominantly black cemetery that has the names of families that are still known all around Hillsborough.
“These are the people who made Orange County, and this is what makes it rural and quaint,” Scarlett said. “While we’re talking about having it rural and quaint, we’re destroying it all at the same time.”
The development Scarlett speaks of is the Research Triangle Logistics Park, which would encompass approximately 190 acres of undeveloped land hemmed in between I-40, Old Highway 86 and Davis Road. The project, which could include light industrial and light manufacturing and potentially 2.25 million square feet of warehouse space, was brought before the Orange County Planning Board Aug. 5. The meeting, which was conducted by Zoom, lasted until 11:30 before being adjourned and a second meeting planned for Aug. 19.
Many residents who will be affected by the RTLP plan fear their concerns and questions will not be heard. They have expressed frustration over what they consider to be an effort to rush approval of the project. The site had been approved in 2018 for the Settler’s Point development, which included some residential with the commercial zoning.
But Settler’s Point never came to be. The RTLP plan adds 12 acres to the potential development, and this has neighbors of the site wanting answers, particularly with regard to the expected increase in traffic.
“The planning board, department and the developer all basically said it’s up to the DOT as far as traffic,” Scarlett continued. “And they’re absolutely right. The DOT rules with an iron fist. Whatever they say, the developer has to do. And the DOT is full of hard-working, very intelligent people. I’ve dealt with them before. The issue is, as Dolly Parton used to put it, ‘If you put 10 lbs. of mud in a 5 lb. sack, you’ve got a problem.’ We’re trying to put 30 lbs. of mud in a 5 lb. sack. The belief from the planning board seems to be that the DOT has a magic wand. It seems the intention is to approve this project and then let the DOT worry about it. The DOT does not have a magic wand. It cannot make an unworkable situation work. And there’s proof of that right up there with Collin’s Ridge. The DOT provided two possible plans for that area, both of which were rejected by the town and the county as unworkable. And, yet, they’re still developing Collin’s Ridge and more than 1,000 homes.”
Scarlett insists that, despite his aggravation, he is not anti-development.
“I am not against development at this interchange. I would like to be, but I swallowed that pill 50 years ago with I-40. I don’t ever expect that site to be a corn field. Bring development, but bring the right development,” he said.
“I was not in favor of all of it, but I felt much better about Settler’s Point,” Scarlett said. “Those developers were local and had a vested interest in the community reaction. When I raised a concern about it’s plan to put in wells to supply water for tenants, the developers researched it and withdrew it’s plan to do that because they saw it wasn’t feasible.”
Echoing fears and frustration is Scarlett’s son-in-law and his family. They also live along the half-mile driveway that leads to Scarlett’s home. Despite the close proximity to each other, one received a letter about the Aug. 5 meeting from the Orange County Planning Board, while the other did not.
“My father-in-law sold us 12 acres of land,” said Brandon Sneed, who, with his wife and daughter, live across the street from the proposed development. “We fell in love with it. We have a little highway noise in our backyard, but we’re OK with it. We just moved in the beginning of June. I want to be as involved with this as I can because this is my home now. I’ve invested in it. Orange County is not cheap to live in.”
The Orange County Planning Department sent notices of the meeting to homeowners within 1,000 feet of the RTLP site. Sneed’s house is within that boundary. Scarlett’s house is not.
“My address is the rural buffer,” Sneed said. “It’s the south side of Davis Road. All the construction is going to happen on the north side of Davis. There’s no sort of buffer between the rural buffer and what is being proposed for this zoning for commercial. You’re going to go from having countryside to a huge warehouse. There’s still a lot of unknowns that us homeowners out here would like to know and feel like we’re entitled to know what exactly is going on with the Board of Orange County Commissioners as well. The DOT is the DOT. It will get back to you when the can. I understand that. I feel like this is all being rushed.”
Sneed, who attended the planning meeting, said he was concerned that some members of the board were calling to vote on approval for the development.
“There were 14 people who still had their hands raised with concerns and questions at 11:30 when the meeting was adjourned,” he said.
Like his father-in-law, Sneed said he’s not against change and understands the need for development.
“We’ll continue to live here even if this project does get built,” Sneed said. I’m all for bringing jobs. I’m all for advancing the future. At the same time, it’s Hillsborough. It still has some small-town character.
“There’s no hiding these buildings. If I couldn’t see them from the street, I’m cool with that. If the infrastructure was in, I’m cool with that. They always say ‘if you build it, they will come.’ But then you have towns like Henderson where they have warehouses falling in on themselves because no one ever came,” Sneed said.
Sarah Shore, who moved to the area four years ago to raise her family in a place that wasn’t industrial, said she’s afraid of losing the feeling of safety her home now has.
“I’m looking at the site through my kitchen window,” she said. “I haven’t been happy about any of the proposed projects. We have two young kids and I feel very safe allowing my them to play outside. We play in our backyard. If this gets developed, I can’t safely allow my children to play in the backyard anymore.”
Shore also expressed concern over property value. “Settler’s Point would have at least increased the value of my home. Having this across the street is going to drastically decrease the value,” she said.
Franklin Garland, who, with his wife, owns the whole west-end boundary of the proposed zoning section, is spearheading an effort to bring attention to the proposed development and and a plan to oppose it.
“We feel like we’re being pressured into this,” Garland said. “That the planning board is providing the least amount of time legally to raise concerns and objections to the project and notifying the minimum amount of people. There are many more people who are going to be affected by this project. This is why we feel we’re not being heard.”
“A lot of us have been labeled ‘not in my backyard’ people, and that’s not the case at all,” said Gerald Scarlett. “If they approve this as it stands right now, they’re going to live to regret it, as are the people that come after them. They are going to spend years, if not decades, in meetings and millions of dollars trying to fix what they’re about to do.”
No one is planning anything. They should decide what they want there — what works and fits Hillsborough — and then go find a project that will fit that plan. This is working in the opposite way.