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Randolph commissioners OK megasite rezoning

February 10 2016

Triad Business Journal

Randolph County has taken another key step in efforts to develop a megasite capable of luring an automaker or advanced manufacturer, but it didn’t come easily.

After meeting for more than five hours, much of that time devoted to hearing from area residents opposed to the development, commissioners late Tuesday voted 3-2 in favor of rezoning about 1,500 acres to a heavy industrial conditional district, the News & Record reports.

As chronicled by Triad Business Journal for more than three and half years, local officials have been working to assemble and market a megasite near Liberty, and there’s been significant opposition from the start. Alan Ferguson, a Greensboro attorney and neighbor to the site, was battling it in 2012 and he continued to argue on behalf of others who packed the rezoning hearing on Tuesday night, including presenting a petition signed by more than 400 residents.

“There is simply no credible evidence on which one might reasonably conclude that this site has more than the slightest chance of being chosen for an auto manufacturing site, as it has been advertised, or even as an ‘advanced manufacturing’ site as that promise has been amended recently,” Ferguson said, according to Asheboro’s Courier-Tribune.

There are no guarantees, acknowledged former Greensboro Mayor Jim Melvin, who has been a key leader in the efforts as the president of the Greensboro Randolph Megasite Foundation, an arm of the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation. But, borrowing a phrase from the hockey great Wayne Gretzky, ‘you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,” the News & Record quotes Melvin as saying.

The Triad has two shots to take an an automaker capable of producing thousands of high-paying jobs and landing millions of dollars of investment, and they are roughly 15 minutes apart on U.S. 421. Greensboro businessmen D.H. Griffin andTim Booras have another megasite, the 1,800-acre Chatham-Siler City Advanced Manufacturing Site, farther south in Chatham County. And the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite earlier this year took its most significant step forward when the N.C. Railroad Co. announced its intent to invest $13 million to acquire some 1,300 acres. If finalized, that will put a large amount of the acreage in the hands of an entity with a vested interest in helping lure a large manufacturer, such as an automaker, to the area.The railroad plans to work with Norfolk Southern to provide rail access for a user at the megasite, with the N.C. Railroad PresidentScott Saylor telling us recently that the Randolph site "ranks very high in the Southeastern U.S."

Plans are to combine the 1,300 acres being evaluated by the N.C. Railroad with the approximately 420 acres already owned by Randolph County and bring total megasite land under ownership to about 1,300 acres. Meanwhile, the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite Foundation is in the process of purchasing about 200 acres of megasite land.

While the railroad's purchase addresses a key issue of owning the land, the rezoning was also key for the megasite to be taken seriously. No major manufacturer, certainly one of the scope of an automaker, wants to bet on a site that isn’t approved for industrial development.

County Planning and Zoning Director Jay Dale told the Triad Business Journal in early January that the 1,533 acres of planned megasite land was at the time zoned for residential or agricultural use. The heavy industrial conditional district, now approved, will allow for "auto manufacturing, any sort of heavy industrial manufacturing" as well as aerospace, Dale said.

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