Greenhouse operator will add 35 jobs, grow by 25 percent
HUNTERSVILLE – The collapse of the residential housing market has presented one of Huntersville’s best-known businesses with a golden opportunity, and Metrolina Greenhouses came to the town board Monday night, Nov. 1, with plans for adding 1.5 million square feet of additional greenhouse space.
That’s a 25 percent increase in the company’s greenhouse space, and Metrolina expects to eventually add 35 more people to staff the expansion, President Art Van Wingerden said.
Metrolina’s growth also helps another Huntersville business hurt by the recession.
In March, Stephen Pace, developer of the Parkside at Skybrook North community, sold 133 acres to Metrolina that was part of the second phase of Skybrook North.
Pace told commissioners candidly Monday night that he’s only sold 52 of 102 lots in the Parkside community and nothing is moving. “It’s all an economy issue. The banks came knocking,” Pace said, rapping his knuckles on the podium. So he sold the land for Metrolina’s expansion, eliminating 78 lots that he can’t develop now anyway.
“We’re hurting. We’re going to keep our fingers crossed, and we’re voting for change on Tuesday,” Pace quipped.
Metrolina also expects to wait until 2012, depending on the economy, before expanding its warehouse operation in phases, Van Wingerden said. The company already operates 6 million square feet of heated growing space, the largest single-story heated greenhouse in the United States.
Monday night, town officials held a public hearing to sort out details about zoning conditions surrounding the Metrolina purchase and the Skybrook sale. The proposals still go to the town planning board and back to the commission for a final vote. Officials discussed details such as:
• In the original zoning for the second phase of Skybrook, the town required Pace to provide enough land for a future fire station and a commitment to install a greenway along Clarke and Ramah creeks.
Principal Planner David Peete told commissioners that Pace is still offering two alternative parcels for the fire station, and the town staff prefers a 1-acre parcel on Huntersville-Concord Road west of the Parkside community. Metrolina also is agreeing to commit 100 feet of land along the creeks for a greenway easement, but neither Metrolina nor Skybrook is willing to pay to install the greenway itself, Peete said.
Van Wingerden said the county already has a sewer easement along the side of both creeks, and the county should have no difficulty constructing the greenway.
• Even by eliminating 78 lots from the second phase of Skybrook North, Pace needs committed green space to allow him to build the 178 remaining homes planned on two pieces of land close by. Metrolina has agreed to protect part of the 133 acres it purchased – land along the two creeks that falls in a large flood plain – as the green space Skybrook needs, Peete said.
To expand its greenhouse operation, Metrolina also must provide green space to satisfy Huntersville’s development rules. So the company has agreed to commit part of its land to an “urban forestry” arrangement, in which it will plant seedlings around the creek-side of its warehouses and let them grow for 20 years. Metrolina can then harvest the trees and replant with new seedlings, Peete said.
• Commissioners asked questions about the noise from greenhouse fans and landscaping to shield the expanded operation from Parkside homes and motorists on Huntersville-Concord Road.
Crediting his grandfather, who founded Metrolina, Van Wingerden said the newest warehouses don’t use fans. Instead they have a MX2 system, named after America’s nuclear missile silos, that open the greenhouse roofs pulling air out of the warehouses and drawing in fresh air.
Metrolina plans to plant fast-growing cypress trees to hide its operation from Parkside residents, but the company doesn’t see a need for highway landscaping. Van Wingerden and Town Planner Jack Simoneau said the land at the highway climbs to a hill, and the high ground will hide the new warehouse operation on the other side.
Only one Parkside resident spoke at Monday’s public hearing. He said residents support Metrolina’s proposal. They are most concerned that fire trucks and other large vehicles have room to turn at the end of dead-end streets. Town officials said they would take that concern into account.