By Richard Sullins |

Hours before families began to gather and mark the start of the holiday season, the Sanford City Council met for almost two hours last week to review another long list of proposed real estate development projects. It’s a process that has kept its members occupied for much of the past five years.

Public hearings were held on eight different projects at the November 15 meeting, ranging in size from just under three acres to almost 169 acres. Two others were pulled from the meeting’s agenda at the last minute so that they might be considered sometime in December or even January.

Several of the developments that were discussed were for tracts that had been previously approved, but because they had been given a “conditional zoning district” designation, the developers were required to come before the council again for further authorizations as work on their projects progress.

These special classifications create stand-alone divisions that have their own unique requirements and conditions. Conditional zoning districts are permitted under the Plan SanLee land use plan that was adopted by Sanford, Broadway, and Lee County in 2018.

One such project was the 110.48-acre Gum Fork Development, located north of Colon Road and east of U.S. 1 across the four-lane from Central Carolina Enterprise Park and the Galvin’s Ridge project. The entrance to the site is directly across Colon Road from the city’s new fire station that will start construction early next year.

The site was originally purchased by Criteria Development of Spanish Fort, Alabama but was acquired earlier this year by one of the largest home construction companies in the United States, DR Horton Homes, headquartered in Arlington, Texas.

The revised draft approved by the council contains significant departures from the original concept that was presented six months ago when the property was annexed into the city. The original plan for 254 single-family homes has now been reduced to 167, and the 260 apartment units on the site has been increased to 300. The revised plan now includes space for 128 townhomes, an item that was not a part of the concept approved by the council six months ago.

The tract contains almost 13 acres that are to be developed for commercial purposes and Horton had previously provided minimal information into the types of businesses that might be located. Mayor Rebecca Wyhof Salmon expressed her own frustration on a lack of responsiveness by the company to this question and a representative said that this section of the development could include such amenities as a grocery store, health clinics, and restaurants, among others.

National trends suggest that the boom in real estate sales and purchases is starting to trend downward in larger markets like Raleigh and Charlotte that had become super-heated. But the cooling of markets has not been across-the-board and places like Sanford continue to see the pent-up demand for single and multi-family housing as strong as it has been for the past five years.

What’s driving the demand is the incredible success story that Sanford and Lee County have become in attracting not just new jobs, but good high-paying jobs that offer families the prospect of putting down roots in a community with a system of great parks and other amenities at a price much less expensive than options open to them in the Triangle.

Decision on Ascend athletic fields sent to Planning Board

The council also held a public hearing on a request from the Ascend Leadership Academy to add two athletic fields to its existing 23-acre campus south of the city.

Ascend is a free public charter school serving grades 6 through 12 and located on Harvey Faulk Road near the intersection of U.S. 421 Bypass and N.C. 87. ALA serves families in Lee and Harnett counties, as well as surrounding areas.

The plan calls for the construction of a six foot wooden privacy fence in the area where the fields would be constructed on the southern end of the property. One field would be used for softball and the other for baseball. There are no plans to use the fields after dark and the application makes no request for lighting the areas after sundown.

The ALA site was first approved by the city in 2018 and then annexed and rezoned the following year using the original site plans. This action created the Ascend Leadership Academy Conditional Zoning District.

No comments were made about the matter during the public hearing, clearing it to move on to the Planning Board, which could bring back a recommendation to the council as early as December.