Two commercial developers told Davidson commissioners the land town planners envision as an area for offices and light manufacturing on N.C. 73 would not work for any companies looking to build those types of facilities.
Community One bank owns the roughly 130 acres on the north side of N.C. 73 between Ramah Church and McAuley roads that Davidson planners want to rezone. The bank hired Norman Walters and Walter Fields, two long-time Charlotte-area commercial developers, to study the planner’s proposal.
Walters and Fields presented their findings during a pubic hearing Tuesday, March 8, on the Davidson planning department’s request to rezone the property from residential to employment campus.
Davidson Economic Development Manager Kris Krider has pointed to a study performed by McCallum Sweeney, a site selection consultant, which found Davidson doesn’t have any areas suitable for offices and light manufacturing. The former Davidson East property lends itself to that use because of its location to the N.C. 73 corridor and availability of utilities, Krider said.
But Fields said the study appeared to be less of a marketability study and more a list of upgrades needed for the site. Developer Frank Jacobus planned to build a 240-home subdivision on the site before he defaulted on a loan from Community One bank. But the land meets no requirements for an industrial site, Fields said.
“I think we would all agree this site is not ready,” he said.
Fields and Walters showed Davidson commissioners several other business parks throughout the area and explained why those sites were successfully developed. Most of the business parks were large tracks of land, where roads and utilities were already constructed, allowing companies to buy ready-to-build sites.
The former Davidson East property, has none of those qualities, Fields said. Also, when compared to Westlake Corporate Park, developed by Walters, Davidson East has about 150-less total acres. And after all the town-required setbacks were taken into account, the property.
“When I start looking at this and thinking if I would want to buy this land and develop it – no, the property is just not right,” Walters said.
The commercial real estate market has not rebounded and is not strong enough to garner interest from companies looking to set up shop in Davidson. And it may never be strong enough because many counties offer companies free land in business parks that are ready to build.
“That’s how the Prairie Packaging (now known as Pactiv) deal got done,” Walters said. “They were given land. Private investors can’t do it because we’re in it to make money. I would go somewhere else to find more land or go to one of those other counties.”
Davidson East would require companies to spend about $250,000 per acre to develop the site, Walters said. In contrast, the average cost of already improved business park lots in the Charlotte area cost about $75,000.
Also companies would have to wade through Davidson’s strict development standards and planning process, which can take much longer than in other towns.
“It’s not only time consuming, it’s also expensive,” said Susan Irving, a local attorney representing Community One, said.
Davidson resident Stewart Gray, who lives near the Davidson East property, also spoke during the public hearing and questioned if Davidson really wants a business park.
“This doesn’t seem appropriate and consistent with what we want Davidson to be,” he said. I’ve been to Westinghouse Boulevard (where the Westlake Corporate Park is located) and it doesn’t seem to be very Davidson to me.”
Commissioners have not set a vote for the rezoning petition.