Published: Mar 04, 2012 02:00 AM
Modified: Mar 02, 2012 05:57 PM
CHAPEL HILL - The vision that has cheered some Chatham County officials and worried some Orange County ones for more than five years took a big step forward Friday, when Walmart formally applied to build a 148,400-square-foot store in northern Chatham.
The proposed store would go on 20 acres of a 62-acre site off U.S. 15-501, just south of the Orange County line.
The site, near the intersection of 15-501 and Smith Level Road, has long been considered a likely spot for a big-box store, and last summer Walmart submitted a preliminary site plan to Chatham County.
"Walmart's announcement of a second store in the county means approximately 300 new jobs, and we need every one of them," Commissioners Chairman Brian Bock said in a statement. "Given how many of our residents must commute outside the county to work, often for long distances, this is very good news."
Some Orange County leaders don't think so. They have long worried that a Walmart just over the county line could increase traffic on local roads, draw business away from local stores and siphon sales tax dollars off to a neighboring county's coffers.
"The site is literally on our doorstep," said Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt. "In that respect it's similar to New Hope Commons and the other shopping centers just over the line in Durham County, and I expect it will serve a similar function to our south as those do on our northeast. It's a magnet for commercial dollars, which will be spent just out of reach of Chapel Hill and Orange County. That's an unfortunate circumstance for Chapel Hill and Orange County.
"The question is, can Chapel Hill and Orange County respond to the leakage this represents?"
Roger Perry of East-West Partners, developer of the proposed Obey Creek mixed-use development off U.S. 15-501 in Chapel Hill, just north of the Walmart site, had the same question. Current town rules limit development along that corridor."We've known this was coming for quite some time, but this is a siren call and a warning to the town that the southern corridor into Chapel Hill is dramatically under-served commercially," he said.
"Development is going to happen along that corridor. It's coming," Perry said. "Is Chapel Hill going to get caught with its pants down, like it did with New Hope Commons? Are we going to once again endure all the problems of new development and reap none of the benefits?"
Walmart will employ about 300 people, the company said in a press release.
According to Walmart, the average hourly wage for its regular, full-time employees in the state is $12.39 per hour, as of October 2011.
Chatham County Manager Charlie Horne said the Walmart site would not need to be rezoned and the project would not require county commissioner approval.
"I think it will be a help, especially in an economy like we have," Horne said. "It could do a lot of things. One is jobs. Two is revenue from property tax and sales tax."
Bock said the store will be a much-needed boost to the county's sales tax revenues and the property tax base."Given the store's location, it will attract shoppers from nearby counties," he said.
That is precisely what concerns many Orange County leaders.
"With every dollar spent in Chatham County" Kleinschmidt said, "there goes a dollar that could have been spent in Chapel Hill or Orange County."