By Richard Sullins |

If you’ve lived in the Sanford area for any length of time, you’ve likely wondered about what’s going to be done with the 25 acres or so of land that sits behind the CVS Pharmacy and Bojangles restaurant at the intersection of U.S. 1 and Tramway Road.

The land was cleared about a decade ago, and it seemed to be ready for construction of something new – but no one seemed quite sure what it was. There was speculation it might be home to a large gas station or perhaps an outdoor mall. Maybe a new car dealership would open there.

Finally, the city of Sanford has now given approval to new plans for an apartment complex, a large hotel and up to nine new commercial properties on the land.

Conceptual plans submitted to the Sanford City Council by Rhetson Companies, Inc. of West End in Moore County detail plans to construct an apartment village on the 24.6 acres near the intersection of the two very busy roadways, consisting of 11 three-story buildings that will contain 30 units each – a total of 330 apartments that will be built by Alliance Residential Company in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The more generic planning documents that were also included as part of the package do not contain details about the proposed commercial developments or the hotel, except to show where they could be located.

Rhetson has built apartment complexes and a large number of Dollar General stores in the region, including one that includes Dunkin’ and Jersey Mike’s in a commercial strip just up the road from the Tramway location. Alliance is one of the largest and most active residential real estate developers in the United States, with more than 100,000 units completed in 16 states and 39 metropolitan areas.

A recent action by the city council approved a zoning designation of the Tramway South Apartments Conditional Zoning District for the property. Conditional zoning creates a more negotiated process of sorts where detailed site plans and subdivision plats are required at more frequent intervals by the city council prior to the issuance of any permits for construction or further modification in the development process.

Before this plan, the most recent idea for the property was in 2014 for a shopping plaza to be called The Marketplace at Tramway. The design included spaces for a supermarket and chain retail stores, as well as smaller spaces for other merchants. When Bojangles and CVS came less than 10 years ago, it seemed that something was finally about to happen.

Intersection redesign

But the North Carolina Department of Transportation refused to grant permission for any other businesses to locate on the site until the intersection at U.S. 1 and Tramway Road can be upgraded to handle increasing amounts of traffic.

A 2020 DOT Average Annual Daily Traffic Count determined that an average of 25,500 vehicles per day go through the intersection along U.S. 1 and another 9,400 vehicles travel across it on Tramway Road.

NCDOT is considering two versions of a proposed plan to rework the intersection into a “reduced conflict” design (previously known as a “smart street”) with right turns only permitted where the two new alignments of Tramway Road would meet. U-turns could be made about 1,000 feet from the intersection.

Public meetings were held on the proposed design last year and comments were received through October 29. Construction was originally set to begin this year, but delays have pushed that date until after the U.S. Open is held in Pinehurst in the summer of 2024. The let date for construction is now in the fall of 2025.

The anticipated completion date for the intersection improvements is the fall of 2028 and the estimated construction costs of $24 million will be paid from federal highway funds.

The new conceptual plan presented to the city council shows spaces for as many as nine new commercial locations that would be located in existing outparcels along the northbound side of U.S. 1 and the southern edge of Tramway Road.

Given DOT’s previous reluctance to allow further commercial development along those corridors until the intersection upgrading can be completed, development of the new commercial outparcels could be postponed until the intersection is completed in about six years.