Mebane’s planning board had been divided 6-3 against the proposal, and citizens who spoke at a public hearing Monday night, whether from Mebane or elsewhere, were deeply divided – 38 of 60 speakers, 63 percent, opposed the project, with 22 in favor (37 percent).
But Mebane’s city council did not have the same degree of reluctance, voting instead 5-0 in favor of rezoning to allow a huge Buc-ee’s travel center on about 32 acres near I-85/40 at Trollingwood-Hawfields Road.
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The council meeting lasted an unprecedented eight hours – adjourning at 2:00 a.m. More than seven hours of that time was devoted to hearing the pros and cons of the proposed travel center from representatives of the Texas-based travel center company, as well as supporters and opponents – from Mebane, other areas within Alamance County, some veteran opponents from Buc-ee’s earlier attempts to build in Efland, and even supporters and opponents from as far away as Raleigh, Greensboro, and Charlotte.
In addition to setting a record for length, the meeting also set a record for attendance. With a dozen or more standing along the walls, the council chambers can accommodate close to 100 people, as well as television cameras and other media. Another 117 people were in an adjacent, “overflow” room – the first time in memory such an auxiliary setting had been necessary.
Unlike the earlier planning board meeting which only had a smattering of supporters, the city council hearing also featured enthusiastic Buc-ee’s customers, some who came adorned in Buc-ee’s brand tee-shirts with stories of their favorite locations.
[See separate story in this edition of public comments from some of the Mebane residents who spoke during the hearing.]
The travel center will consist of a 75,440-square-foot convenience store, 120 fuel pumps, 24 electric vehicle charging stations, and 652 parking spaces.
The company outlined plans to widen roads in front of its site, add exit ramp lanes on both sides of the interstate interchange to accommodate traffic coming and going from its location, and widen the bridge over I-85/40, at a cost of $6 to $11 million. The total investment has been put at $60-$70 million. Additionally, during the construction phase of the project, it is estimated 831 people would be employed with an overall employment and other investment of $91 million.
The current closest Buc-ee’s are in Sevierville, Tennesee and Florence, South Carolina, as the company seeks to expand its footprint across the Southeast. The Mebane site will be its first in North Carolina.
The company touts its pristinely clean bathrooms, as well as the efficiency of its gas lane layout, and takes pride in the fact that it is not a traditional truck stop; indeed, tractor trailers are banned from its locations.
Instead, the company appeals to travelers seeking a quick stop for fuel and snacks. There is no “sit-down” restaurant; nor are there other amenities to prolong a visit.
The company’s vice president for real estate, Stan Beard, Jr., had earlier told the planning board that the Mebane Buc-ee’s could attract as many as five million visitors a year.
The company’s presentation to the council attempted to pre-empt some of the opposition that had surfaced last month during the planning board’s consideration of the same proposal.
Underground fuel tanks which had been located near, but not in, a floodplain, were moved to the other side of the property so as not to provide any opening for discussion of natural disasters.
The company even consulted with the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources and received an official clearance from the department that the property was not part of any historic Indian trading path, as opponents had claimed during the planning board meeting. Several speakers Monday night continued to insist on that interpretation.
The company’s representatives also re-doubled their efforts to underscore the economic impact of the project: 225 full-time jobs, long-term sales tax revenues from its convenience store, a point that was pivotal in one council member’s decision to support the project.
In an interview after the meeting, council member Katie Burkholder said the addition of sales taxes that would pour into Alamance County, estimated by the state at $1.8 million annually, could supplement needed infrastructure for the local school system, which would be a large beneficiary of the new tax revenues.
Burkholder also said she was impressed by the company’s commitment to the EV charging stations – 24 initially, which company officials said could be expanded in the future around the perimeter of the site.
The company’s attorney, Amanda Hodierne of Greensboro, also emphasized that the rezoning choice confronting the council was not whether to leave an empty, undeveloped field versus having a busy Buc-ee’s travel center.
Rather, she stressed that the council’s action from December 2022 had already rezoned the site for a 279,000-square-foot warehouse, whose plans called for 49 truck docks, and 211 parking stalls. Thus, the site was already approved for that; Crow Holdings, which won that original approval, has already begun clearing and grading work for two other warehouses on parcels beside the one where its largest warehouse was to be built.
Councilman Jonathan White summarized his decision shortly before the vote as being an evaluation of which project – a warehouse or a Buc-ee’s – would be best for Mebane. He concluded the Buc-ee’s was preferable.
In separate interviews with The Alamance News after the meeting, councilmen Sean Ewing and Tim Bradley both focused on how the company had addressed some of the environmental issues. Ewing described the company’s “environmental safety measures” as “compelling.”
Ewing added, “I like projects that bring money into Mebane and make the city even more of a destination.”
Bradley also questioned aloud the sudden emergence of the concerns about the property potentially being an Indian trading path. Bradley noted that the industrial park that included that tract of land had been in existence for a decade, with the specific property rezoned more than a year ago. “So why are we just now hearing these concerns,” which had never previously been raised, he posited.
Council member Montrena Hadley, herself a former planner for the city, said she felt the Buc-ee’s plans met the parameters envisioned by the city’s long-term planning.
Part of the company’s assurances are that all road improvements envisioned for the project will be completed by the time the gas station actually opens. In an earlier interview with The Alamance News, Stan Beard, Jr., Buc-ee’s vice president for real estate, explained that the company itself will build the additional lanes and ramps, as well as widen the overpass bridge, rather than relying on DOT construction.
In various statements, company representatives have suggested that opening could be about two years away.
[Editor’s Note: For a sampling of comments from the 60 speakers during the public hearing, check back later.]