Council expounds on business park decision: Combest says park does not comply with county’s standards

Published 12:10 am Thursday, June 28, 2018

By Jim Buice
For the Clemmons Courier

After announcing its intentions of not supporting the Tanglewood Business Park in its previous meeting, the Clemmons Village Council gave plenty of reasons why they believe so in Monday night’s meeting.

Councilwoman Michelle Barson and councilman Mike Combest have served as council representatives in meetings with county staff, Village staff and county commissioners, including the latest last week that Barson called “adversarial but constructive.”

Combest went through a detailed slideshow, which was part of that discussion with the commissioners, on why the Village feels like their goals are at risk for the project, the potential negative impact on the Village and why the financials don’t add up after Barson provided an update on where things now stand.

“We were engaging with our county commissioners on behalf of our council,” she said. “They keep asking what do you want there. We keep stressing what we want is to see land that is in line with our Comprehensive Plan and Community Compass — use of land that aligns with the county’s growth management plan and that would have the proper infrastructure to be in accordance with the county UDO (United Development Ordinance) prior to execution because we really believe if done right, the county commissioners will get the outcome that they desire, which they clearly stated is to be profitable and positive. It is this council’s goal to help guide them in that direction in Clemmons’ best interests and Forsyth County’s best interests.”

The county has requested $1.5 million for utility upgrades from Clemmons for the 170-acre park, but the two parties have gone back and forth for some time and been unable to reach an agreement on being partners on the former Idols Road Industrial Park, which recently was renamed Tanglewood Business Park.

Mayor John Wait said that it seemed like this topic has been on the agenda for most of the meetings since he and three new council members came aboard last December.

“When I was at the meeting last week, it really seemed like we hadn’t had any meetings at all, almost,” Wait said. “For me, that just underscores the frustration with this project and about how hard you guys and the staff have worked on this issue, and still feel like we don’t have very good answers about why we’re even building this thing in the first place. This is the county’s property, so the question is, can we convince them to not build this park?”

During his presentation, Combest said that the bottom line was that an evidence-based analysis shows that the park does not comply with Forsyth County UDO standards, has a significant likelihood of harming neighboring property values, will adversely affect neighbors’ quality of life and will struggle to generate significant tax revenue for Forsyth County.

Among the many specific points that Combest covered, the UDO requires “measures to ensure compatibility. Provisions that will be made to assure that the proposed new use will be compatible with the surrounding neighborhood.”

“It is so important to get the compatibility study done,” he said.

Combest said that no compatibility analysis has been performed, and in an assessment of the park’s impact on the community, only “Local Traffic Impact, AADT Count” got a check mark out of 12 overall categories.

And even Clemmons officials are challenging that one. “We’re doing an independent third-party review of their traffic study,” said planner Megan Ledbetter.

In addition to the extra traffic with a business park, Combest pointed to the potential decline of property values, saying more research is needed. He used the completed Union Cross Industrial Center, which he said is the “crown jewel” in Forsyth County as a comparison – stating assessed tax values for neighboring properties dropped by 72 percent from 2005-2015 while Clemmons West assessed tax values during the same time frame without a business park increased 92 percent.

As for the increased traffic, Combest brought up a transportation impact analysis that failed to even include Lewisville-Clemmons Road, the heaviest travelled roadway in the area where 40 percent of the park traffic will arrive and depart.

“We’re meeting with NCDOT,” Combest said of the traffic issues. “We feel there are legitimate questions on how this was shaped and scoped so that we can lay out a case that we think this will lead to a counterproductive park if it’s not taken care of up front. We’re county residents, too.”

Beaufurn, the park’s first and only tenant in the park which is scheduled for closing in July, is estimated to have 35 workers and only have 520 trucks a year, but the projection at build-out for the park is 600 workers and 29,200 trucks per year.

Regarding the financials, Combest showed a chart that showed a profit of $4.25 million at full build-out with 20 years of tax revenue and $3.21 million at full build-out with 20 years of tax revenue and five-year incentives.

“If you distribute it out, that’s about 40 cents per county resident per year,” Combest said. “Our instinct is there’s a significant amount of risk to property values and a significant amount of risk to our business district by choking our transportation system, unless we get this ironed out.”

Apparently in some of the discussions involving the county and Clemmons, there has been a bit of disconnect at times, including the Village having a say on whether a business could come into the development based on the impact of infrastructure, etc.

“All is meaningless unless they actually put in on paper and send it over, which so far every time we have a discussion, they put it on paper and something completely different comes over,” Wait said.

Chris Wrights, who was on the previous council with Combest when talks began with the county in the fall of 2016 said: “ I guess my biggest concern on this is, even if we can get concurrence, the stats show if you build this, the value of homes is going to go down. With a $1.5 million investment, based on their own statistics, we would recoup our money in 25 years at best, once the park is completely built out, and that doesn’t even factor in people’s property values going down, which will cost us even more money.

“If they would do what they actually said they were going to do, we would have had an agreement two years ago.”

The council had talked about crafting a resolution in the previous meeting “outlining why this is a poor decision for the taxpayers of Forsyth County and an even worse one for those that happen to reside in Clemmons.”

However, Barson said she wasn’t sure if it was necessary now since “we certainly got the county commissioners’ attention at the last meeting.”

When Wait asked about proceeding or tabling, Combest said: “Let’s take it off, and we’ll get to it when it’s appropriate.”

Also in Monday night’s meeting, the council received a favorable update on the new library from planner Megan Ledbetter, who said that the Planning Board reviewed the site plan in its meeting last week and that they were pleased with the “put backs” added to the project after an additional $200,000 was allocated to the project by the county.

Ledbetter said that they also reviewed the configuration of the site plan and their Planning Board checklist with unanimous support for the project. Next will be the county beginning work on construction documents with the hope of groundbreaking in the fall.

In other business, the council:

• Approved updates to the federal uniform guidance policies.

• Thanked Michael Gautreaux (Planning Board), Chuck Houska (Planning Board), Bruce Britton (Zoning Board of Adjustment) and Wayne Dodson (Zoning Board of Adjustment) for their service to citizen boards.

• Heard from Shannon Ford in her marketing report that the outdoor movie nights will be postponed until September because of the frequent summer rains.

• Heard from Charles Sherrill of Clemmons West, who stated his opposition to Tanglewood Business Park, calling it “an ill considered and risky scheme that will damage the county property tax base” along with many other concerns, including increased traffic and noise.