I’m 16. For the past month, I’ve organized protests, created media graphics, and drafted local government speeches in between submitting college essays and studying for the SAT. Why? The residential future, safety, and health of my family, neighbors, and community hinges on the Sept. 15th Board of County Commissioners’ vote on the 161-acre industrial warehouse that is Research Triangle Logistics Park. RTLP, proposed by Barrister Commercial Group, would be located off of I-40, Davis Road, and Old N.C. 86.
Save Hillsborough, the community group in opposition, is not “opposed to virtually all change,” as Frank Csapo, the CEO of Barrister Commercial, suggested in an interview with the News of Orange County. Those who tune in will quickly glean that we are in full favor of responsible development of this intersection. We understand and empathize with the need for further tax revenue in this county, as well as the growing need for jobs. We seek only the opportunity to work alongside Barrister and the county in planning a development that is the best fit for Hillsborough’s businesses, traffic, schools, and residents.
Save Hillsborough is also not a “smear campaign,” as Csapo said. We do not run our organization on the platform of “distributing falsehoods and misinformation.” The data that we present has been carefully fact checked, and we encourage others to withhold any numbers if they are unsure of their validity. In fact, our biggest concern is the validity of data, which is why we have deeply encouraged Barrister Commercial to provide clarity regarding the gaps in information that they have presented to the county.
One of the proposal’s numerous inconsistencies was the original claim that this project would result in 4,500 jobs. The current site plan proposes a parking space for every 3,000 feet of non-office space, yielding 800 parking spots. With this information, it was not clear how RTLP would employ 4,500 people as was once stated. Additionally, a new 1.5 million square-foot warehouse in Mebane employs only 150 people. After a push for clarification, Barrister recently adjusted this number down to 1,000-1,500 jobs, still not specifying whether they will be local. This strikingly different estimate raises eyebrows about what other eye-catching, invalid estimates Barrister is using to sell the community on this project.
Save Hillsborough should not be labeled as a “selfish minority,” either. Our supporters include the owner of a preschool, downtown business owners, and the Eno River Association, which is concerned about the impact RTLP will have on the area’s biodiversity. Additionally, our petition currently has 6,100 signatures, which is nearly the population of the town of Hillsborough. If there is a public majority that feels passionately about approving this project, why have they not stepped forward?
The Eno River Association has expressed that the current site plan doesn’t go far enough to protect the water quality of Cates Creek and this area of the Eno, which is home to state endangered and threatened freshwater mussels and rare freshwater fish. They call for Barrister to ensure buffer areas, preserve critical habitat, and manage stormwater, suggesting that they implement a green roof and permeable pavement, which would reduce stormwater runoff. Last year, there was no ability to exit Davis Road onto Old 86 for six months, as flash flooding led to a major sinkhole that required road repair.
Despite what Barrister has presented, there are residences on the properties that they have suggested are empty. One residence is approximately 30 feet from the proposed driveway for this facility, which all traffic exiting the facility to I-40 will need to take. Studies have shown living in close proximity to diesel truck exhaust can have potentially severe health implications. Additionally, the noise created by these vehicles can top 100 decibels, more than 20 times louder than lawn equipment, which the county prohibits after 9 p.m. The 12-acre Davis Road parcel, adjacent to numerous residential properties, has never been designated for economic development by the county. However, Barrister seeks to rezone this parcel and use Davis Road as RTLP’s main traffic exit point, despite being given an opportunity to route the traffic away from Davis Road and further develop the Old 86 intersection with the Service Road in a non-residential area.
With an estimated 3,648 trips per day, RTLP will create the potential for traffic tie-ups on Old 86, the I-85 and I-40 interchanges, and New Hope Church Road. But the traffic impact has the potential to reach beyond that, exacerbating existing traffic bottlenecks and cutting off local businesses from Chapel Hill residents. There has not been consideration for the school buses that use this route, nor have the traffic assessments factored in the Collins Ridge development, or adequately addressed the delay of UNC Hospital emergency vehicles around the Davis Road intersection that may occur as a result.
In recent Planning Board and BOCC meetings, the utter lack of respect for Hillsborough citizens has been incomprehensible to me. The Planning Board’s job, as expressed by Micheal Harvey, is to allow the applicant and those in support and opposition of the project to have fair access to discuss their concerns. What took place at the August 19th meeting, however, seemed far from fair. The developers were given unlimited time to present their plan, with no opportunity for residents to challenge or ask questions, despite significant gaps in their data. After about two hours, residents were finally given three minutes each to speak, and several members were cut off while presenting their cases. At one point, one board member stated that he grew up next to an industrial park and “it wasn’t the end of the world,” suggesting that residents should not complain. Despite interest amongst several planning board members in deferring a vote to gather more information, particularly on the Davis Road impact, a minority of members vehemently pushed for a vote that night.
I have lived in Hillsborough for my entire childhood. Csapo, you can eat at our restaurants. You can buy your way into our Chamber of Commerce. You can state in the press that you have great respect for our concerns. But your simultaneous attempt to paint these concerns as a selfish smear campaign says otherwise. Until your actions legitimately reflect empathy for all of our citizens, please refrain from calling Hillsborough home.
Throughout this process, I have recognized the ease with which developers can disregard the needs of the community. I recognize the privilege of the Davis Road area, and cannot fathom the lack of a voice that lower socio-economic areas have when it comes to preventing this kind of development. For this experience, I am grateful, as this realization has impassioned me to dedicate aspects of my future professional career to stopping irresponsible development like RTLP.
Our wish is for the BOCC and Barrister to listen and work alongside us in our efforts to better integrate the development of this area into our community. Times have changed since this area was set aside for development in 1981, and the community that now surrounds it has also transformed. It’s time for our county to rethink this area’s best use, and to reframe our vision of what Hillsborough and Orange County can become.
Sascha Godfrey is a Hillsborough resident who periodically writes for the News of Orange County.