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‘Not the right fit’ for Buc-ee’s. Here’s what’s coming to Orange County instead.

·4 min read

Orange County has a new suitor for an undeveloped, 100-acre site between Efland and Mebane that caught the eye of Texas-based Buc-ee’s last year.

Oppidan Development, based in Cary, submitted a zoning compliance permit application Sept. 1 for the proposed Efland Industrial Park — 886,240 square feet of light industrial and warehouse space — at 304 Mt. Willing Road in Efland.

The developer has not identified a company that could occupy the space, county planning staff said.

Since the current zoning allows light industrial and warehouse uses, the developer only needs planning staff approval that it conforms to the county’s development, environmental and building standards.

The county’s Planning Board and Orange County Board of Commissioners do not review projects that are allowed by-right under the existing zoning.

The site is located beside Interstate 85/40 between exits 160 and 161, and in the county’s Commercial-Industrial Transition Activity Node. It has public water and sewer available and is zoned for up to 2 million square feet of office and manufacturing land uses.

A site plan shows the project could add three roughly 250,000-square-foot buildings and one 126,000-square-foot building. The project would maintain a landscaping buffer around streams and wetlands on the southern portion of the property. Four stormwater ponds could be located between the buildings and the interstate.

Roughly 32 acres would remain undeveloped.

The main entrance would be off the U.S. 70 Connector across from Ben Johnston Road, with an emergency access driveway off Mt. Willing Road. Parking would be included for up to 596 vehicles, including 95 trucks.

A traffic study notes that the project could generate about 217 new trips during the weekday morning commute and 161 new trips in the evening. Future studies would determine whether traffic lights are necessary at the intersection of Ben Johnston Road and the I-40/85 ramps with the U.S. 70 Connector.

Staff review, no public input

County staff members started to review the project Wednesday and are meeting with the developer, the N.C. Department of Transportation, utility providers and others that could be involved in the project. A staff working group will meet again Oct. 7.

Staff meetings are not open to the public, and there is no deadline for a decision.

Buc-ee’s applied last year to build a 60-pump gas station with a 64,000-square-foot Buc-ee’s Travel Center as part of the proposed Efland Station development. The long-term plan for the property would have added 425,000 square feet of retail, office and hotel construction.

The county had estimated that the $40 million project could create 200 full-time jobs and generate up to $1 million in local property and sales tax revenues in the first phase.

Only the travel center was prohibited under the current zoning.

The project faced intense public criticism for its potential environmental impact and how it might affect small, local businesses in Efland. Thousands of residents signed a petition and others held rallies in Hillsborough hosted by the newly formed grassroots group A Voice for Efland and Orange to oppose the project.

Buc-ee’s withdrew its application in February after two public hearings and a list of conditions from the commissioners, including a request for a smaller travel center.

Stan Beard, director of real estate for Buc-ee’s, told the Planning Department in a letter that the company decided “Orange County is just not the right fit for Buc-ee’s.”

Buc-ee’s has since announced plans to build the world’s largest convenience store in eastern Tennessee, about 50 miles from Cherokee. The project is a partnership with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

No other potential North Carolina sites have been announced.

The Orange Report

Calling Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough readers! We've launched The Orange Report, a free weekly digest of some of the top stories for and about Orange County published in The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. Get your newsletter delivered straight to your inbox every Thursday at 11 a.m. featuring links to stories by our local journalists. Sign up for our newsletter here. For even more Orange-focused news and conversation, join our Facebook group "Chapel Hill Carrboro Chat."

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