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Mebane’s city council reluctant to take lead on Buckhorn Area plan when Orange Commissioners haven’t considered, or voted on, it

Mebane’s city council spent about two hours earlier this month discussing potential plans for future expansion, through the creation of a new zoning district that would encourage certain types of nonresidential development, along West Ten Road in western Orange County.

Consideration on December 7 was over a Buckhorn Area Amended Long Range Plan, which, if adopted, would guide future development of manufacturing, wholesale, distribution, and other non-residential land uses.

The city council was hearing the results of a study funded by the city and Orange County’s commissioners. But the absence of any commitment of the commissioners prompted Mebane’s council to put off any final decision until its January 4, 2021 meeting.

While several council members expressed a desire to let Orange County weigh in on the proposal, they also acknowledged that the commissioners aren’t scheduled to discuss the plan until January 15, almost two weeks after Mebane’s next council meeting.

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The survey had identified five potential areas to be brought into Mebane’s planning area, but council members seemed skeptical of all but two.

The area of seeming greatest consensus, based on their comments, was to bring within the city’s future planning sphere an area (referred to as “A”) north of interstate I-85/40 along U.S. 70 east toward Efland beginning at its intersection with Buckhorn Road.

All three of the other potential areas (“B,” “C,” and “D”) are south of the interstate, at various points from west to east along West Ten Road. The fifth area (Area “E”), along Ben Johnston Road near the intersection with the Efland exit was studied but not recommended for inclusion by the study itself.

The council’s main interest was in complying with a state law to reflect the council’s action last year to bring within the city limits the 175 acres between West Ten Road and I-85/40 where Medline had sought annexation and rezoning for, and is now building, an enormous distribution center. The 1.2-million square foot building will become the largest in the area.

The council was also interested in bringing within the new zoning district about 46 acres at the southeast corner of Buckhorn Road and West Ten Road where another developer, Al Neyer, is looking to build another large distribution center. [See separate story in December 17 edition on the planning board’s postponement of this proposal.] The city council also postponed its consideration of an annexation request for the same property.

The municipal limits of Mebane have historically split the Alamance-Orange County line, with most of the population and industry on the Alamance County side. However, in the past few years, much of the residential and industrial growth has been on the Orange County side of the city.

Several residential developments are under construction on the northeast side of the city along Lebanon Road. The industrial sector has been and continues to be along West Ten Road on the southeast side of the city.

During the presentation on the Buckhorn Area Amended Long-Range Plan, city planning director Cy Stober emphasized that the study’s findings were largely a “guidance plan” for the city’s long-term growth in that area. He stressed that is was “not a rezoning study,” “not intended to force annexation on anyone,” and “not a study to support eminent domain.”

Becky Wilson who lives on Squires Road in the area complained about the “mud and muck” which she said has become “worse” and is covering West Ten Road near the construction site for the new Medline distribution center. [See separate story this edition.]

But much of the discussion was from long-time residents, including Wilson, who expressed concerns about being surrounded by future industrial development, based on the parameters of the proposed Buckhorn Area Plan, which envisions the area as an “economic development zone.”

Patty O’Connor, another Squires Road resident, asked that the council contract with a realtor to conduct a study on the financial impact of having residential properties in the midst of an industrial park.

Janine Zanin, of Timberwood Trail, Efland, expressed a similar concern with having the Gravelly Hill Middle School surrounded by industrial property. She said studies consistently show that the worst performing schools occur in situations when people [attending schools] are detached from their homes.

Zanin also expressed concerns about the lack of public input on the plan, although the discussion soon focused on the fact that Orange County’s commissioners, who jointly asked for the study with Mebane, have not held any public hearing or other discussion about the proposed new area.

After hearing from several other residents expressing similar worries, councilman Tim Bradley questioned why Mebane was proceeding with this kind of plan when it had not yet been endorsed, or even discussed, by Orange County’s commissioners.

“I assumed we’re working on this with them,” Bradley surmised, only to learn that Orange commissioners aren’t even scheduled to begin their discussion on the topic until their meeting on January 15.

The tenor of Mebane’s council discussion changed to wanting to take a much more cautious approach until Orange’s commissioners study and weigh in on their preferences for the area plan.

In the meantime, council members agreed that the only portions from the plan that they are proposing for inclusion are: the 149 acres of the Medline project; Section A, north of I-85/40; the potential future industrial project at on 46 acres at the corner of Buckhorn and West Ten roads; and about 48.5 acres on the south side of West Ten Road, also bought by Medline.

Mebane council members unanimously agreed to resume their discussion about these more limited areas at the next city council meeting on January 4.

All of the additional sections identified in the study were put aside by Mebane’s council for the time being.

The council also agreed to have the comments section on the plan “turned back on” so that residents who had not expressed their views could do so until Mebane’s council next takes up the issue in January.

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