The High Point City Council on Monday, Nov. 19 voted 7 to 2 to conditionally approve the annexation of 431 acres for a business park north of High Point.
The site, assembled by D.H. Griffin, includes property owned by one of his holding companies, 350 South Land Holdings LLC. It also contains parcels owned by Bland Property Investments and the Hedgecock family.
On the recommendation of High Point City Manager Strib Boynton, the City Council did not rezone the land and made the annexation contingent on Griffin getting the property rezoned and a development agreement for it approved by the City Council by March 2013.
Development agreements are a form of planning first approved in North Carolina by the General Assembly in 2006. They lock a city or county and a developer into a relationship over a usually large development and give the developer a vested right in the jurisdiction's development ordinance.
Development agreements can lock the city and the developer into other commitments, including spending, which Boynton cited as a reason for putting off approval of Griffin's development agreement. He also said that Griffin's proposed development agreement was not well fleshed out.
Griffin has been assembling the 431 acres for the proposed business park for four years, and, according to Boynton, working with High Point for as long. The land in question is north of the High Point city limits but south of I-40, where, as established in annexation agreements with Greensboro and Guilford County, High Point's planning area ends.
In an email to the City Council earlier in the day, Boynton described the proposed business park as "a major investment by a private developer, and mixed-use commercial development that will clearly benefit High Point."
Boynton wrote, however, that he has a professional obligation to not only the current City Council, but the next, which will be sworn in on Dec. 3, to make councilmembers familiar with the agreement.
"The development agreement carries a $13 million obligation – roughly $10 million in road improvements and $3 million in water/sewer improvements," Boynton wrote.
"Financing the water/sewer improvements is fairly easy," he wrote. "I fully support the new development, and hope the current city council will be willing to recommend to the new City Council favorable review and consideration of a final development agreement that will enable the project to proceed."
Boynton wrote that he thought that a development agreement could be reached within a few weeks.
In a Nov. 15 email to High Point Mayor Becky Smothers, staff members and Smith Moore Leatherwood attorney Tom Terrell, who is representing Griffin, Boynton sounded as if he had just discovered the cost of the roads and water and sewer lines.
"Of the $13 million obligation, we currently have only $1.2 million on hand," he wrote. "I appreciate the enthusiasm and I am 100% for the annexation and growth, however in this matter, I think we all need to pause and more carefully and fully review what is really included in the proposed development agreement. It carries a $13 million price tag."
Boynton wrote that one of the email recipients had suggested that Boynton was "an obstructionist." He wrote, "But I honestly think a little more time is needed to be able to be able to fully review and brief everyone."
The High Point Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday, Nov. 13, voted 7 to 2 to unfavorably recommend to the High Point City Council Griffin's request to rezone the land for the business park, which would be the largest business development annexed into High Point since Piedmont Centre was built in the 1980s. Planning and Zoning Commissioners Mark Walsh and Jim Davis – who will be sworn in as Ward 5 councilmember on Dec. 3 – voted against the unfavorable recommendation.
On Monday, all the councilmembers but Mike Pugh and Foster Douglas voted in favor of the conditioned annexation. Although the City Council took Boynton's advice to put off the rezoning and approval of the development agreement, the rest of the councilmembers spoke in favor of the business park and lavished praise on Griffin. Several neighbors of the proposed business park spoke against it.
Ward 4 Councilmember A.B. Henley, who did not run for reelection, said, "It's a good thing Mr. Griffin didn't ask his supporters to come, because there wouldn't have been a big enough room in the county."
Terrell claimed that, at public-input meetings required for the annexation and rezoning, no one spoke against the business park.
"The only negative comments were from people who thought they were going to be annexed themselves," Terrell said. "This area is perfectly situated for an industrial park."
Terrell also said, "This is the most controlled, high quality development that I think the city could have – and the neighbors."
Todd Smith, who lives on Boylston Road near the proposed business park, said he had been told that Terrell had been hired to represent High Point in its disputes with Davidson County over annexation and a special-use permit that would allow High Point to complete the third and last phase of court-ordered improvements to High Point's Westside Wastewater Treatment Plant in Davidson Count, which Smith said he considered a conflict of interest.
Smothers and High Point City Attorney JoAnne Carlyle denied that Terrell is representing the city. Carlyle said High Point was waiting to see if Terrell's services were needed in the Davidson County negotiations.
But Terrell has been working for the city on the special-use permit.
As recently as Oct. 15, Terrell briefed the City Council in closed session on the negotiations over the special-use permit and the City Council agreed to have Smothers send a letter to Davidson County demanding that the permit be filed, or an explanation be provided for why it has not been filed.
Smith said the Planning and Zoning Commission voted against the rezoning request for good reasons. He said, "Economic growth should not come at the expense of quality of life."
David Ciener, who lives on South Bunker Hill Road, spoke after Terrell said that Griffin would be responsible for mitigating any traffic problems.
Ciener said, "I would love to hear exactly what that meant and if the cost would be totally borne by the developer."
It was clear from the beginning of the City Council meeting, however, that Griffin had the votes for the conditioned annexation despite the objections.
Councilmember Latimer Alexander compared the proposed business park to Piedmont Centre, which he said has 15,000 head-of-household jobs. Alexander said he sees the annexation vote as the beginning of a 20-year process of developing the business park.
Pugh said he voted against the annexation because it would draw development away from southwest High Point. Douglas said he wanted to know if Griffin has firm commitments from tenants for the business park. Terrell has said that Griffin is negotiating with two major companies.