Commissioners discuss potential 300-acre development off new I-85 interchange

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 2, 2018

SALISBURY — The Rowan County commissioners held their annual planning retreat Thursday with much discussion about development along Interstate 85.

One potential development could involve a 300-acre tract off the new Old Beatty Ford Road interchange, which developers are looking to transform into a hub for economic and residential growth.

The land is under contract with Commercial Properties Realty Trust. Carolyn Martin, president and CEO of the company, said she envisions the land becoming a nucleus for expansion.

“We want to create a place that includes both education … (and) outdoor physical activity, everything you need to live there,” she said. “It includes everything that a company would want to have to come and be there.”

Martin said the exact vision of what the developed space will look like is still in the works. But she said the front half —that closest to the interstate — will be for small businesses and light industrial uses.

The back will become a residential space, she said, with about 600 new homes.

Martin listed several amenities of the development in her short presentation: a mountain bike trail, greenhouses, 500,000 to 1 million square feet of commercial space, small town homes, single-family homes, and an apartment complex.

The space could include smaller service retail stores like a pharmacy and grocery store, she said, though it would not be developed for large chain stores or filling stations.

“This is the front door to Rowan County, which you all know better than I,” said Martin. “We can make a statement about Rowan County that it is growing and it’s innovative.”

A major part of the development would be the extension of Novant Health services into the area. Dari Caldwell, president of Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, said Novant has been looking to extend into southern Rowan County for many years.

“The days of building new hospitals are waning because most of health care is now taking place in an outpatient sector, not inpatient,” said Caldwell.

Novant would be interested in bringing a micro-hospital or ambulatory campus to the proposed space. Caldwell said that would serve as either an urgent care center or free-standing emergency department.

Novant also wants to bring an imaging center, physical therapy and rehabilitation center, pharmacy lab and physician office practices to the area, she said.

Caldwell said several services for the medical center are dependent on state regulations and allocations: hospital beds, high-dollar equipment and operating rooms. The state would need to approve the hospital for service expansion, a process called certificate of need.

Otherwise, Novant would have to move resources from one location to another. That is hardly practical, Caldwell said, when hospital resources like operating rooms are already seeing near-constant use where they are.

But all the development plans hinge on a critical element: water and sewer service.

“We’ve worked with Dari now for eight years, and we’re ready to go, but we have to have water and sewer,” said Martin. “We can’t develop this property without water and sewer.”

Caldwell agreed.

“We are definitely very interested and have been interested since the very beginning and are very supportive of this project,” she said. “To echo Carolyn, obviously we can’t do anything without water and sewer.”

For now, Doug Chapman of McGill Associates said water and sewer extension depends on critical next steps and planning: inter-local agreement negotiations, property and easement acquisitions, permitting and a financial analysis, to name a few.

These steps could take as long as three years for the $21.24 million development, he said.

Officials from neighboring municipalities said they are looking at the project with cautious anticipation.

“I’m excited about what this project could bring to the county, could bring to us,” said Lee Withers, mayor of China Grove. “But at the same time, I have to be concerned for my town, for what it can do to us.”

Withers said he hopes to be more involved in talks with the developer in the future and that he hopes to see more tangible plans from the developer soon.

Reed Linn, town manager for Landis, said he has similar hopes for the town to become involved in the project.

“We are excited. We want to be a player, and we want to be a partner,” Linn said. “We do consider this interchange a gateway to Landis, and we look forward to working with county in the future on the project.”

Linn asked the commissioners to consider other water providers in the county, including Landis and Kannapolis. Planning for the expansion has to date been contingent on a connection to Salisbury-Rowan Utilities.

County Commissioner Craig Pierce, who said he has been in talks with Martin for years as the interchange gained momentum, asked the developer to estimate the increase in tax base should her vision proceed.

Martin projected a $500 million to $750 million increase, dependent on density and commercial development.

“Once you put water and sewer out there, that part of the county is going to explode,” she said. “We’re going to be a support for other development there.”