Industrial rezoning to come before City leaders in September

In September, the Mebane City Council will consider a proposal by six local property owners to rezone approximately 175.9 acres to the immediate south of the I-40/I-85 freeway corridor in western Orange County. The City Council already approved in August a request to annex the six parcels into the Mebane corporate city limits. If approved, the properties will be rezoned to M-2 (light manufacturing), which could set the stage for even more industrial growth in the coming years.

Earlier this month, the Mebane Planning Board recommended for approval by the Mebane City Council a proposal to rezone six parcels of land, totaling approximately 175 acres, in western Orange County to light manufacturing (M-2). The potential rezoning will set the stage for more industrial growth in the areas along the Orange-Alamance border in the months and years ahead. 

The six parcels of acreage to be rezoned to light manufacturing came before the Planning Board on behalf of the six property owners - Irell Rohl Revocable Trust of 1987, Martha S. Brown, Donna G. Collins, James H. Whitfield, Gary L. Allison, and SL Efland Heirs, a North Carolina LLC. 

The six parcels proposed to be rezoned are surrounded by I-40/I-85 to the immediate north and West Ten Road to the immediate south, with Buckhorn Road nearby to the west and Gravelly Hill Middle School to the immediate east. The properties are adjacent to the Weigh Station along the I-40 East/I-85 North portion of the freeway, while the two easternmost properties are adjacent to Gravelly Hill Middle School.

The properties, much of which are currently heavily wooded, include North/South Old Highway 10 and I-85 North (28.00 acres), North/South State Road 1144 West Ten Road (62.51 acres), Old Highway 10 and I-85 South (19.74 acres), 5511 West Ten Road (34.37 acres), 1144 West Ten Road (14.09 acres), and 5203 West Ten Road (14.082 acres). 

The six properties in total comprise 175.9 acres. The Mebane City Council approved the non-contiguous annexation of the six properties into the Mebane corporate city limits as part of the consent agenda and its August 5 session. Because the properties were previously located outside of Mebane’s extra-territorial jurisdiction, they had to be annexed into the Mebane corporate city limits so they can be served by the city’s water and sewer system. 

City Planning Director Cy Stober indicated that the area already has water and sewer infrastructure, and no new infrastructure is anticipated to be provided to the site by the City of Mebane.

“There is no intention for utilities to be necessitated,” Stober said. “Utilities are present on site. Any additional utilities would be an expense the developer would have to encumber.”

The applicants are requesting the M-2 rezoning from the current zoning of EDB-2, which is a special zoning for economic development known as Orange County Economic Development Buckhorn Higher Intensity.

“The area is intended for more robust growth, primarily for light industrial purposes,” Stober explained.  

Stober indicated that the parcels were identified in both the Orange County Unified Development Ordinance and the Mebane Comprehensive Land Use Plan, “Mebane by Design,” which was completed in 2017, as prime areas for future industrial growth. The three westernmost properties are in the city’s primary growth area, while the three easternmost parcels are in the secondary growth area. 

When asked by a public speaker, Bob Jennings, to define light manufacturing in layman’s terms, Stober mentioned that light manufacturing would generally include industries such as farm supply storage, mini warehousing and distribution functions, moving and storage services, bulk mail and packaging, apparel and unfinished fabrics, bakery and confection products such as those produced at the nearby Morinaga plant, cabinet and word working shops, beverage products, dairy products, and pharmaceuticals. Any or several of these industries could potentially be located on these properties if they get rezoned for light manufacturing. 

By comparison, heavy manufacturing (M-1 zoning), which is every permitted industrial use that doesn’t require a Special Use Permit, would include trucking and freight terminals, battery production, carpeting, chemicals, paints, alloys, glass manufacturing, furniture, fixtures, and houseware manufacturing. 

The properties in question along West Ten Road are not requesting, nor have they been approved, for such heavy manufacturing uses. The rezoning would be for light manufacturing purposes. 

Austin Watts, who attended the Planning Board meeting representing the property owners seeking the rezoning, indicated that the owners currently have no specific plans for what will go on the property, but that the rezoning will allow a site plan to eventually be developed for the parcels. 

“At this time, we have not submitted any site plans,” Watts said. “This is simply a rezoning request in conjunction with annexation. At some point in time, there will be a site plan filed.”

Aimee Tattersall, a resident of nearby Squires Road, implored city officials to seriously consider future development in the area, and how it will impact those currently living around the proposed light manufacturing zone. 

“I’ve known ever since I moved in (the area) that it was an Economic Development zone, so I have no complaints. I’ve talked with a couple of Orange County Commissioners, and they’re certainly for it too. I just wanted to make one comment. I counted, and between Mount Willing Road and Buckhorn Road, which would be the access points for these properties, there are 42 separate driveways,” Tattersall told the Planning Board. “Some of them are roads. Some of them are churches. Squires Road has something like 12 houses on it. Most of them are single-family homes. So I just urge you, whatever the decisions are on traffic, you have to be sure to keep that in mind.” 

Stober mentioned in response to Tattersall’s public comments that Mebane by Design, the town’s Unified Development Ordinance, would require any future developers of these properties to provide a 70-foot landscape buffer between any industrial and residential uses, along with a 50-foot setback. Landscaping can occur within the setback, but 70 feet is required as a landscaping buffer between any industrial development and any residential property. 

Planning Board member Kurt Pearson motioned to approve the rezoning. Pearson indicated his finding that although M-2 light manufacturing is a new zoning district for its immediate neighbors, such as those along Preston Loop, the properties are consistent with the recommendations of Mebane by Design, and are harmonious with the zoning along West Ten Road and Buckhorn Roads. 

The Planning Board unanimously approved the applicant’s rezoning request, which moves the recommendation for rezoning forward to the Mebane City Council. The proposed rezoning will come before the City Council for approval or denial on Monday, September 9.