In early September, while parts of Orange County were locked in a debate over the benefits or detriments of the proposed Research Triangle Logistics Park, another development was making its debut. Efland Station, a 104-acre project along the I-40/85 corridor in Efland at Exit 161 quickly raised eyebrows, boasting potential space for a hotel, medical offices, retail, a bank, light industrial, restaurants and 40 acres of green space. The likely centerpiece of the development is a Buc-ee’s Travel Center.
It would be the first North Carolina foray for the Texas-based company that is known for its beaver mascot and sparkling bathrooms. The Efland Station location is expected to include 120 fuel pumps, a car wash and 70,000 square feet of fresh food and gifts.
A website created by Buc-ee’s about Efland Station, states “the development would add more than $2 million to the local tax base each year, with $1 million of those local taxes generated by Buc-ee’s.” Efland Station’s economic impact will be $10 million per year in federal, state and local taxes, according to eflandstation.com.
Pending government approvals, construction on the project, which would begin with Buc-ee’s, could start in 2022.
But the project doesn’t come without its detractors. A number of residents, businesses and property owners near the site have expressed concerns. Most are not strictly opposed to development, but want to ensure precautions are being taken and considerations are being made with regard to preserving the rural landscape. There is even a website — voice4efland.com — that is dedicated to stopping the Buc-ee’s development.
“In 1988, my family bought a portion of a logged-out farm that backs up on the interstate, that’s 4,000 feet from the site Buc-ee’s wants to build on,” said Kaye Brown, who lives on Ben Johnston Road near the Efland Station site. “So I’ve been out here a long time. We’ve learned how to live gently on this land, and restore it to the rich natural diversity that it’s always been. Efland and Cheeks are the rural-urban interface. The people who have been here, some of us for generations, are the people between lands that front cities and farms, between production and consumption, between nature and human narture. That’s really what Buc-ee’s threatens: what all the people here have done for generations.”
But Brown understands the need to grow the economy in the area, and knows that can mean a large development will happen. She hopes planners understand the role of community input.
“Development that not only invites the community in, but provides vital resources, would be something everybody would support,” she said. “Any development that gives us gathering places and treats the natural resources with respect would be great. Mixed-use would be great. Small, light-manufacturing would be great.”
Jared Cates, an Efland resident who lives within 1,000 feet of the back side of planned development, chose to live in Efland because of its centralized location in the state and proximity to the interstate, which is a perk for the travel demands of his job.
Cates helped organize an meeting at the Efland Ruritan Club of about 50 residents, in person and online, to gather information and voice concerns.
“At that meeting, there were a few folks who were pro-Buc-ee’s,” Cates said. “There was also a number of small-business owners who feel that Efland has been ignored for a long time for development and infrastructure improvements, and that the businesses that are here could use more business. Folks understand that development is coming and it could be a good thing, if done correctly, but even the folks who were pretty excited about Buc-ee’s were really concerned when they learned that Exit 160 would be shut down.”
The project calls for Exit 160 to be moved 1/4 mile to become part of the “Efland Exit” at Exit 161. The N.C. Department of Transportation has said, regardless of the proposed Efland Station development, safety concerns would eventually require the closure of Exit 160.
Jennifer Cole, who also lives within 1,000 feet of the proposed development, said the site is literally her backyard. “I am on Southern Drive, and the cows that grazed in that proposed development area break through into my front yard a couple times a year. We have to call the sheriff to corral them back onto that land. My backyard is that cow pasture.”
Cole admits to having conflicted feelings about the Efland Station plan, which projects bringing up to 200 jobs paying $14/hour to Buc-ee’s alone.
“I absolutely agree and sympathize with people who need work in this community. I sympathize with not having transportation and needing a source of employment locally. Anything that would realistically provide that in a small business capacity would be good. A massive interstate gas station might help a few people short term, but if they really want to help our community, warehouses, manufacturing, or small businesses would probably provide more job security.”
Patricia O’Connor, a resident of Efland/Mebane near the Medline Industries facility, said she has concerns about how traffic may be routed and the potential for dangerous travel conditions.
“I think the current traffic that uses that westbound exit is going to be diverted up to Route 70 or West Ten road. I don’t think West Ten is equipped to handle that kind of traffic as a narrow, two lane country road,” she said.
The Orange County Planning Board will meet Nov. 4 to discuss the Efland Station proposal.