Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct an error about the Deep River Volunteer Fire Department.

By Richard Sullins | richard@rantnc.com

Economic development is a tough business. Counties like Lee often find themselves competing against locations in North Carolina or, more often, other states. And to be successful, localities need a winning hand to play in the first round.

Industries need easy access to water and sewer lines. They want to be close to major transportation systems for the shipping of their products. But most importantly, they need large tracts of land that have been prepared for construction. Time is money and these days, so is land. And large tracts of land suitable for manufacturing usage are getting harder to come by.

Sanford’s City Council recently approved a measure that will give Lee County another huge advantage by creating a second local industrial park on a 612-acre tract of land near the Raleigh Executive Jetport bordered by Rod Sullivan and Ammons Farm roads. The site is just off U.S. 1 and abuts another property that CSX Railways plans to turn into a train yard.

Properties of this size are becoming a rarity as the Triangle region continues to grow. Its location near an airport and major commercial freight line makes it even more attractive to potential industrial clients who are looking for a place to put down new roots.

Making the site an even bigger win is its proximity to the 2,150-acre Triangle Innovation Point megasite in Chatham County where VinFast will build electric vehicles and the batteries that power them. This new park could become a host for companies who seek to locate close to VinFast’s operations.

The site would create the county’s second large industrial park, this one just two miles from Central Carolina Enterprise Park, which is nearly at capacity. The new park would be about 125 acres smaller than CCEP.

The request to annex the property into the city limits was passed without opposition. Marshall Downey, director of the city’s Planning and Development Department, said requests for annexation such as this one are typically made because the developer needs access to large volumes of water and sewer services that only the city can provide.

The property is owned by Matt Stephens of Stephens Enterprises in Raleigh, an industrial developer with similar projects in Dunn and Johnston County. The project’s developer is Trinity Capital Advisors of Charlotte, who requested the rezoning of a portion of the property from Residential Agricultural to Light Industrial.

Speaking on behalf of the developer, Jason Bertoncino, vice president of land development for WithersRavenel Civil Engineering in Cary, said no one has yet approached him about the possible construction of any speculative buildings or build-to-suit structures, so no immediate construction seems to be on the horizon.

Bertoncino said rezoning the property is the first phase of the development process that may stretch out for several years. He told the council the project is designed to be completed in phases as clients lease tracts of the campus, similar to the plan being followed at CCEP.

That’s an important issue for neighboring landowners who fear buildings could be erected on the site before Sanford’s new Number 5 fire station at the intersection of U.S. 1 and Colon Road is completed. Cassandra Ferns of Breezewood Road said during a public hearing that before the new station comes online, service to the industrial site would have to be provided by the Deep River Volunteer Fire Department.

“I think that a second large industrial site would strain the ability of a new station to provide service to both industrial parks and the 1,000 homes that will be filling the Galvin’s Ridge development,” she said.

Environmental concerns were on the mind of James Critelli, also of Breezewood Road, who sent an email to the council saying “rezoning would further the loss of farmland to industrial purposes and further erode the county’s agricultural heritage and lifestyle that Lee County is well known for.”

Critelli believes developing the area would damage the natural watershed and increase the potential for dumping and flooding.

But Jimmy Randolph, CEO of the Sanford Area Growth Alliance, took a different view, saying the certified sites and shell buildings at CCEP have attracted more than $350 million in new capital investment and tax base expansion over the past three years. He believes this model will continue to be successful.

“With each new success, the market of available properties and buildings for industrial expansion is reduced,” he said. “There is consensus that appropriate additional industrial sites will be needed to compete for future opportunities, and that site readiness will be a critical factor in our ability to compete successfully with other communities for quality new jobs and significant tax base expansion associated with modern advanced manufacturing operations.”

Randolph said the Stephens site is both suitable and attractive for light industrial development for many of the same reasons it is not well-suited for residential development – its proximity to U.S. 1, the Jetport, and the active CSX rail line.

Lee County Commission Chairman Kirk Smith believes a new industrial park is needed but questioned the city’s motives in the annexation.

“Due to our successes, we are currently tapped out and we no doubt need more industrial sized buildings,” he told The Rant. “This potential site with available buildings will help provide additional employment opportunities for our county’s citizens and increase our tax base.”

He went on to raise concerns about the city’s ability to provide police and fire protection so far from the central business district.

“This move highlights the city of Sanford’s appetite to expand into the county, using sewer and water as a key instrument of annexation” he said. “This non-contiguous annexation will stress the protections provided by the city’s Fire and Law enforcement services.”

City Manager Hal Hegwer said the city will continue to provide public safety services to both parks and Galvin’s Ridge through the completion of the new fire station. Deep River VFD is currently negotiating a contract with the city to provide emergency services coverage for the site until that new station becomes operational.