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New interstate and campus spur prospecting in NW Guilford

by Jordan Green

Two weeks afterbeing sworn in as a new member of the Greensboro City Council,developer Robbie Perkins recused himself from a vote to amend thecity’s comprehensive plan for GTCC’s proposed aviation campus near OakRidge. Perkins explained that the decision involved extending water andsewer services to the new campus and that his company, NAI PiedmontTriad, had financial and brokerage relationships, not to mentionpartnerships in the area that could benefit from the new utilitiesinfrastructure. "Based on the whole theory that water and sewer makes property more valuable," Perkins said, "I think I should abstain." Theamendment passed unanimously without Perkins’ vote. Two council membersreassured property owners concerned about the campus scarring theirview and displacing wildlife that the community college had proven tobe a model of neighborliness with its campuses in Jamestown and eastGreensboro. And college President Don Cameron said during a publichearing that the campus would spur economic growth in Guilford Countyby training residents for jobs in aviation and logistics. Votersin Guilford County have also signaled widespread support for the newcampus, approving a $79.2 million bond referendum by a 9.4-percentmargin in May. The new campus represents the kind ofbusiness-progressive politics that in North Carolina tends to drawtogether a motley coalition of players who otherwise share little incommon.

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With traditional industries ailing, the area’s rareeconomic growth has lately come from the aviation and logistics fields- enterprises that naturally cluster around Piedmont TriadInternational Airport. And with the HondaJet scheduled to begin rollingplanes out in 2010, community leaders have been eager to train localresidents so they could qualify for the new jobs. New students wouldmean more jobs for faculty and support staff, and all would add toconsumer spending. GTCC has been a generous media buyer, and YES!Weekly was among several entities that endorsed the bond issue earlierthis year. Honda Aircraft Co., Cessna Aircraft Co., Old DominionFreightline and New Breed Logistics each chipped in $5,000 to help aGTCC political action committee rally support for the bond issue. In short, GTCC’s expansion has represented economic development in Greensboro and the surrounding countryside. Everybodywins, it would seem, with the exception of group rural homeowners in arare remaining sliver of unincorporated land between Greensboro and OakRidge. They are residents who like their one-story ranch houses nestledin the woods, prefer cattle pastures to fields of pavement, and wouldrather live out their days than take a payout from developers. "Dr.Cameron was talking about this being an aerotropolis," said BarbaraSumner, who has lived with her husband on nearby Castleford Drive sincethe mid-1980s. "I looked it up, and oh my God, it describes rings ofapartments for the worker bees. That’s really, really scary.Greensboro, North Carolina, do we really want to be Charlotte?" Sumnerworks from home as business analyst for a major nationwide company. Herhusband is a glazier who has helped erect several of the county’s majorcorporate parks. "Me and Tom camp and we hike," she said. "Whatdo you hear?" She paused for a moment to give audience to a gentlesymphony of birds. "It’s nice out here. Yeah, you hear some trucks[too]." Notwithstanding reluctant neighbors such as theSumners, Cameron and GTCC might turn out to be rainmakers not only foraviation companies and future workers, but also for developers hungrilyeyeing vacant real estate along the NC Highway 68 corridor. Whena newly formed limited liability company brought a request for aseparate comprehensive plan amendment before the council last month toallow for a retail and residential development adjacent to the futurecampus, not one but two members had to recuse themselves from the vote. At-largeCouncilman Robbie Perkins, who also abstained from voting on theamendment requested by GTCC, told YES! Weekly that he and an unnamedgroup of partners hold a contract to purchase the property. The limitedliability company was set up by Brooks Pierce law firm, and DerekAllen, the lawyer arguing the case before council, said he was hired byStanhope Johnson, a partner in Perkins’ firm, NAI Piedmont Triad. ZackMatheny, who represents District 3 and is employed as financialconsultant at Wachovia Securities, also recused himself. He said he waspart of a separate group of investors that might possibly obtain acontract on the property. Matheny said at the time he voted forthe amendment requested by GTCC he had not joined the partnership andwas not aware of any plans to invest in real estate next door to thenew campus. "That vote was what, in December?" he said. "I think I joined in February. I didn’t write a check until three weeks ago. "It’s a private LLC," Matheny added. "It’s just a business venture to do something good, and I hope it works out." Allen,the lawyer with Brooks Pierce, noted that GTCC’s aviation campus isspurring real-estate development by creating a demand for housing andretail services. A third force behind both initiatives is the vaunted220-68 Connector, a four-lane thoroughfare that will be part of thefuture Interstate 73-74 proposed to run from Myrtle Beach, SC toDetroit. Both the college and its coterie of real estate hangers-on arebanking on a favorable decision from the NC Department ofTransportation to locate an interchange nearby to funnel traffic offthe interstate to Leabourne Road, which bisects the future campus andproposed apartment complexes and shopping centers. "That’s wherethe 220 Connector comes down," Allen said. "That’s the only way off the220 Connector for a long way. The proposed 220 Connector, which is partof Insterstate 73, this is how the FedEx guys are going to get out andgo north…. That major artery will take a lot of traffic off 68. Theway on and off the interstate will be right there on Leabourne Road.That’s one of the reasons GTCC is going to be there. GTCC wantssupportive services, places for people to live and shop." Infact, the interchange at the southwest end of the connector has yet tobe determined, said Mike Mills, chief engineer for the NC Department ofTransportation’s Division 7. The department has narrowed alternativesfor the future interstate down from four to two. Alternative 1, thealignment favored by the department and most amenable to GTCC and theprospective developers next door would route the interstate along NCHighway 68 with an interchange a quarter mile south of Leabourne Roadbefore cutting across to Greensboro’s western loop and then southtowards Asheboro. The second alignment, identified asAlternative 4, would break away from the connector east of the campusand cut across residential areas in a more direct path towards thewestern loop. Mills estimated that the interchange assigned underAlternative 4 would add an extra half-mile to the trip between theconnector and the campus. "Alternative 4 would be a closerroute," Mills said, evaluating the relative merits of the two options,"but then you have more human impacts. You’ve got more relocation ofpeople." Mills said he expects the department to make adecision on the interchange in six to eight weeks. Transportationplanners say right-of-way acquisition for the connector is expected tobegin in 2010, and construction would commence in 2013. Mills said thedepartment has been inundated with phone calls from developers andothers anxious to find out where the interchange will be located. Thedevelopers eyeing the land across the street from the future campus arenot the only ones rolling the dice on real estate along the NC Highway68 corridor. Property owner Johnny O. Pitts requested a delay on arezoning request from the Guilford County Planning Board until its July9 meeting. The request calls for 66 acres located a little ways southof the GTCC campus to be rezoned from agricultural to mixed-usedoffice, commercial and residential. A county planning documentidentifies the developer at Huntington Run Development Co. Allenindicated that he does not view the proposed development as a threat tothe Leabourne Road project’s market share because of presumedconditions placed on the Pitts property to limit the amount of acreagethat can be used for retail and residential building. The proposalcalls for 42 percent of the property to be reserved for corporate parkand 22 acres to remain open space. One significant advantagethe Leabourne Road development holds over its rival to the south isthat the Pitts property lies in the pathway of the planned connector.An official roadway corridor map filed by the NC Department ofTransportation in 1997 shows the future four-lane connector cuttingdirectly across the property, which lies west of NC Highway 68 atEdgefield Road. If the department approves Alternative 1, as expected,an interchange would also be installed in the general vicinity of theproperty. Local and state planners gave contradictory accountsas to whether the planned alignment of the connector might impedePitts’ rezoning request. Craig McKinney, a transportation planner forthe city of Greensboro, said he advised Bill Bruce, a planner withGuilford County, that the rezoning request would need to be reviewed bythe NC Department of Transportation. Guilford County DeputyPlanning Director Les Eger said Pitts requested a delay not because thecounty instructed him to submit his rezoning request for review by thestate but because of low turnout at a meeting arranged to present theplan to neighboring property owners. Pitts did not return phonemessages for this story and none of the partners in Huntington RunDevelopment Co. could be reached for comment. "The guy has theright to come in and request something with his property," Eger said."The DOT could take years to make a decision. The DOT could say,"Forget it, we’re not even gonna go there.’" Kirk Perkins, areal-estate appraiser who chairs the Guilford County Commission, saidrezoning the property for higher and more profitable uses couldpotentially increase the value of the land when the state begins toacquire right-of-way in 2010. "If it’s at a higher zoning then it could make a difference as to what the market value is," he said. DougAllison, branch manager for right-of-way, said the NC Department ofTransportation plays no role in regulating rezoning decisions and wouldnot intervene to stop a property owner from obtaining a higher zoningthat could potentially increase the amount of compensation awarded bythe state, despite the fact that the roadway corridor map is a publicdocument that has been on file with the county register of deeds formore than a decade. "The Department of Transportation hasnothing to do with zoning, and whoever the county authorities andplanners are, these are the ones who determine the uses they want," hesaid. "When we come to acquire right-of-way it would be appraised basedon what the zoning is at that time." To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com.”

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