By Richard Sullins |

A new era for Sanford began on Tuesday as Democrat Rebecca Wyhof Salmon took the reins of power as the city’s new mayor and two new members officially assumed their seats as members of the city council.

Salmon, who previously had served as a council member representing Ward 5, was administered the oath of office by North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge Darren Jackson. Salmon’s seat on the council remained empty on Tuesday but is expected to be filled soon.

Salmon was elected without opposition in July’s municipal election. Her first official act was to administer the oath to Democrat Linda Rhodes, who succeeded the retiring Chas Post in an at-large seat on the council.

North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall was on hand to administer the oath of office to Democrat Mark Akinosho, who will represent Ward 1, and to Democrat J.D. Williams, who was re-elected to the Ward 3 without opposition.

The first action by the new council was the selection of its mayor pro tempore, a largely ceremonial position whose primary duty is to fill in on occasions when the mayor is absent. Charles Taylor, the council’s only Republican, was nominated by at large Democrat Jimmy Haire.

There were no other nominations to fill the position and Taylor received five votes. Rhodes used the moment to cast her first vote as a “no” against Taylor’s election.

The terms of office for the mayor and new council members won’t be for a full four years. This year’s election was first scheduled to take place last November, but delays in drawing new electoral districts created by issues with the 2020 Census pushed the election to this summer. Salmon, Akinosho, and Rhodes will serve until municipal voting takes place in November 2025.

The remaining council members – Haire, Taylor, and Ward 4 Democrat Byron Buckels – will be up for re-election in 2023 as previously scheduled.

Water agreement for VinFast approved

In other action, the council approved an agreement with the North Carolina Department of Commerce that will pay for up to $75 million in construction costs for water and sewer improvements that will provide service to the 1,765-acre tract of land in Chatham County recently purchased by Vietnamese electric vehicle manufacturer VinFast, the company’s first facility outside Vietnam’s borders.

The funds come from a state grant of $450 million authorized by the legislature earlier this year to lure VinFast to North Carolina, creating the largest economic development project in state history. Tailored specifically for the Vietnamese carmaker, the legislation is for a “transformative project” in electric vehicles that required the company to invest at least $3 billion of its own money and create a minimum of 6,000 jobs.

The automaker plans to build two SUV models and the batteries that power them at a location near Moncure that is just east of U.S. 1 over the Lee-Chatham county line.

The deal calls for quarterly payments to the city over two years. VinFast has set an ambitious goal of having the plant operational by that date, but can ask for an extension of the agreement if the lines have not been completed by then.

Governor Roy Cooper announced the VinFast project in March, after years of frustration among state officials over losing large economic development projects to other states. VinFast, which purchased the land earlier this month, plans to create 7,500 jobs initially but has also intimated the number could eventually reach 12,000 or more.

A number of supporting companies are expected to locate around the plant. FedEx announced plans in April to build a 330,000 square foot distribution center near the facility, and Sanford’s approval of a 612-acre site this month for a large industrial park near the Raleigh Executive Jetport could also become home to businesses and industries that will support VinFast’s local operations.

Agreement with Northview Fire approved

The council also approved an agreement with Northview Fire and Rescue to provide fire protection and other emergency services to a property owned by D.R. Horton on Colon Road that was annexed into the city limits in May and zoned for another new mixed-use housing and commercial development.

This project, tentatively called the Gum Fork Development, is located east of Colon Road and south of U.S. 1 across from Central Carolina Enterprise Park and Galvin’s Ridge, an across Colon Road from where the city’s newest fire station will be constructed in 2023.

The site was originally purchased by Criteria Development of Alabama, but was recently acquired by Horton, headquartered in Texas. Horton is one of the largest home construction companies in the country.

Sanford is also negotiating a similar agreement with Deep River Fire and Rescue to provide emergency services at the industrial park location near the airport. Both agreements would be in effect until the city’s newest fire station becomes operational in 2024.

Although the site plan is still in the conceptual stage and subject to revision, the preliminary draft for the Gum Fork Development calls for 254 single-family homes and another 260 apartment units on the site. The units will be densely packed, with an average of 3.3 homes and 11.21 apartments per acre.

Because the council approved a zoning designation of the Gum Fork Conditional Zoning District, detailed site plans and subdivision plats are required to be approved by the council prior to the issuance of any permits for construction or further development, meaning that Horton will return to the council for further authorizations as work on the project progresses.

Demand for residential projects in the city remains strong and is expected to remain so for the immediate future. In the past three years, the council has approved more than 30 new projects and if all of those are built, another 6,200 homes would be available for sale. Additionally, another 3,400 apartments have been approved through 26 multi-family developments.