Business park inches forward in Davidson Co.
It’s smaller, and some officials still don’t want it, but the first 250-acre phase of a business park near Linwood is moving off the drawing board.
The Davidson County Board of Commissioners voted 4-3 this week to move forward with a smaller development plan for what became known as a larger, 1,000-acre megasite.
Davidson County Economic Development Commission Executive Director Steve Googe said the vote will allow him to talk with landowners and work out project finances. The actual price for the land is unclear.
“We are extremely pleased to move this project from the drawing board to the construction phase,” Googe said in a press release. “Our commitment to provide jobs and increase the county’s tax base got a huge boost with this commitment from the commissioners. We applaud the commissioners for their forward thinking and taking these steps to support our skilled work force.”
The EDC wants to develop about 1,100 acres of property below Belmont Road in Linwood in three phases. Commissioners approved moving forward on the first phase.
Although Googe in the last few years has warned of running out of open land for recruiting industry, commissioners have been divided over the project since they were first asked to commit $10 million toward the repayment of loans and development costs.
Opponents are skeptical for several reasons:
Commissioner Billy Joe Kepley — Kepley does not like the site and how development has progressed so far.
“This would be a good deal for Rowan County,” he said. “Most of the workers would live there. A site in Lexington would be better. A site near Davidson County Community College would be better. I don’t see anything coming here for the future. They say that if you build, people will come. That may not be true. It’s a gamble.”
Kepley also voiced concerns about what could have been trespassing when about eight years ago, several residents accused a company hired by the Department of Commerce and the EDC of drilling on their land without permission.
Kepley said landowners were told the drilling was for sewer. But later it was revealed that the drilling was for a limited environmental site review for the Department of Commerce and the EDC.
During the scramble to land a Toyota plant at about the same time, several landowners said they were threatened with land seizure through eminent domain, Kepley said. He said he is considering a criminal fraud investigation.
“Some of these options have been gotten by threats and intimidation,” Kepley said. “They were told that if you don’t sign here, you are going to lose a lot of money because we are going to seize the land through eminent domain.”
Commissioner Todd Yates — Yates was concerned that no price has yet been placed on the property and the use of a limited liability company for the deal.
“We tried twice with the state to get a price,” Yates said. “The property has no value until sewer is there. We should buy the property.”
The county could join other investors in an LLC to buy the property. If a company were to purchase property at the site, LLC members would share the profits, according to discussions.
“Regardless of what corporate form we use, the devil is going to be in the details, and we are going to have to have a document that spells out what the expectations are with each of the players in the arrangements,” said County Attorney Charles E. Frye III.
Commissioner Steve Jarvis preferred that the county provide infrastructure for the site after a company buys it.
“I’ve never seen this much interest in a site like this before,” Googe said. “It should sell out fast.”
Advocates agreed with Googe that Davidson County needs a ready industrial site.
Chairman Fred McClure — “We need to have a project before the grants come. We are trying to decide whether to do this.”
Commissioner Sam Watford wanted to scale back the project. He had concerns about the loans and who pay off any debt.
Commissioner Larry Potts — “If we do nothing, we will have nothing. We all campaigned on bringing in jobs. If we do nothing, we should get out and go home.”
It would take about $17.3 million to pay for the development of the entire site, according to estimates prepared for the EDC, including roads.
Commissioner Don Truell — “We have to have something for business. We need to have property.”
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The Deal So Far
Funds: Commissioners have not appropriated any money for the Linwood business park. First, there will be a public hearing. The county may have to commit to about $3 million to cover loans.
Costs: First-phase development totals $7.6 million to provide 2.3 million square feet of graded pads. Grants and low-interest loans totaling $6.7 million have been received or committed. The Economic Development Commission has spent about $400,000 on the project.
Assets: The State Commerce Department awarded the EDC a $1.67 million Megasite grant last year.
Votes: For — Commissioners Sam Watford, Don Truell, Larry Potts and Chairman Fred McClure; Against — Commissioners Todd Yates, Steve Jarvis and Billy Joe Kepley.