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Watauga EDC Meets Thursday To Review, React to U.S. 421 Business Park Conceptual Master Plan

By Jesse Wood

Jan. 8, 2014. The Economic Development Commission for Watauga County will meet on Thursday, Jan. 9, to review a plan for a business park along U.S. 421.

EDC Director Joe Furman noted that this plan is conceptual only and not for a specific piece of property along the U.S. 421 corridor in Eastern Watauga. Furman added that members of the EDC haven’t seen the plan.

“It is for their reaction and guidance,” Furman said recently in an email.

The review of a plan for a business park along U.S. 421 comes after the majority of the Watauga County Board of Commissioners backed out of a $1.7-million contract for roughly 200 acres along N.C. 194 in August during the due diligence period. During a public hearing before the vote, more than a dozen people spoke out against the proposal. Commissioner John Welch was among those who felt that the N.C. 194 wasn’t he ideal location for a business park.

Initially the EDC favored the old Watauga High School property for a business park, but the commissioners (from a prior board) rejected that idea and requested the EDC seek a business park location elsewhere. Then Chair Nathan Miller suggested the property along N.C. 194 and the EDC backed that idea, but it was voted down by three of the other commissioners.

Two months after the vote on the N.C. 194 property, the commissioners and the EDC, which has been an advocate for a second business park in Watauga for quite some time, met in October to discuss whether the EDC should continue the exploration and search for another business park location. All agreed, as Chair Nathan Miller said, that nobody wants an “economically depressed Watauga.”

According to the conceptual master plan, provided to EDC members prior to tomorrow’s meeting, this plan will provide “elected officials, business leaders and residents with a better understanding of the intended land use and of the potential impacts to the property and the area” to possibly avoid the backlash that occurred with the N.C. 194 proposal.

“In order to address concerns expressed over the NC 194 property purchase, a decision to create a “conceptual” master plan was made. Such a plan provides elected officials, business leaders and residents with a better understanding of the intended land use and of the potential impacts to the property and the area,” the plan reads.

“For a number of reasons, US Highway 421 is widely regarded as the preferred location for a regional employment center. US 421 is a major corridor that has been identified in long-range plans as an “economic gateway” corridor, where the County would especially encourage economic development activity. This corridor has many areas that are suited for increased levels of development as essential services and infrastructure can be provided here most efficiently. However, finding an “ideal” site in the High Country for such a development is next to impossible,” the plan continued.

The plan doesn’t intend to address the purchase or development of the property, according to language in the plan. This would occur in the “Master Plan” – not the conceptual master plan.

Commissioners and EDC members noted in the joint meeting that property along U.S. 421 is vastly more expensive than the N.C. 194 property.

See the entire plan here

The EDC will meet Thursday, Jan. 9, at 1:30 pm in the Appalachian Enterprise Center conference room.