County receives report on biz park
by Kellen Short
The report, prepared by McGill Associates at a cost of $52,085, explores the property's conditions, development potential, water and sewer prospects, and possible environmental concerns.
Commissioners voted 4-1 in May to conduct the report, a major step in helping determine whether the county will move forward with the $1.7 million purchase.
Joe Furman, director of the Economic Development Commission, said the report did not identify anything that particularly surprised him about the land, given its size and location.
"There don't seem to be any show-stoppers," Furman said.
The process did yield at least one unforeseen finding: the tract may be larger than previously thought. Tax listings currently state the two parcels total 199 acres, but a new survey found that the land may be closer to 212 acres.
The report found that the terrain in some of the northernmost parts of the tract is steep and not readily accessible, more suitable for recreation or agriculture than business development. The southern portion contains streams and wetlands, but not as prevalent as in the northern part.
"Therefore, the highest development potential will be within the southern half of the property on the knolls and along the ridgelines," the report states. "The basic development concept would be to cut in these areas to maximize the buildable footprint and balance the earthworks by placing fill around the periphery of the hilltop sites."
Although the terrain won't allow a mass grading approach like you'd see in the piedmont, it would offer opportunities for "pockets of development," the report states.
It also finds that mass rock excavation should not be required unless the plan requires digging deeper than 30 to 35 feet. The soil is likely adequate for foundations, floor slabs and pavement in the areas with greatest development potential.
Furman added that while the northern portion wasn't deemed perfect for traditional business development, it might be appropriate for some type of agribusiness.
Water and wastewater
Among the other findings: the land is wet, wet, wet. The property, which includes part of Meat Camp Creek in the north, contains 17 streams with a total length of two linear miles, all classified as trout streams. They also identified 31 wetland areas totaling 5.4 acres.
The report offers two options for water supply: on-site groundwater with a storage tank for fire suppression, or connection to the Boone municipal system.
"Based upon conversations with local residences, well development contractors and county staff, there appears to be a very good potential to develop groundwater as a source for the water supply for the proposed park," the report states.
An artesian well, in which water flows to the surface without pumping, may be located on the site. If those reports are true, supplying water should be "relatively inexpensive" at the site, according to the report.
Because the county expects to recruit smaller-scale employers with 20 to 40 employees, they should not be heavy water users, the report states.
The report estimates the county would need to spend $300,000 for a 175,000-gallon storage tank and $65,00 to $100,000 for development of two wells.
One threatened plant species, the mountain watercress, was found on the property, and the land could support several types of threatened birds and the bog turtle, although those fauna were not seen firsthand.
"The majority of the areas of environmental concern can be avoided altogether," the report states.
A review identified no historic or archaeological sites on the property, although it did not include an on-site investigation.
Deeper review ahead
Several commissioners said Friday they had not yet read the report, but they will have a chance to learn more during a joint meeting with the EDC at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at the Appalachian Enterprise Center.
Vice Chairman David Blust said he's still 50/50 on whether he supports establishing a business park at the site, citing road and other concerns. He said he was impressed by the beauty of the land when he toured it.
"You almost hate to use it for a business park," Blust said.
Commissioner John Welch, the only one to vote against performing the due diligence, said he still has qualms about the purchase. He said he would likely feel differently if the county weren't undergoing a tax revaluation process and if the former high school property had sold.
"I'm not disagreeing that it's a good deal, but this will be something that will hang around with the county for many, many years, and I don't want it to be an anchor around our neck," Welch said.
Community members can chime in at a public hearing on the potential purchase, set for 6 p.m. Aug. 20 at the Watauga County Administration Building.