Looking for land without a fight

Lillington manager steered asphalt plant away from city limits

By ELIOT DUKE
Of the Record staff
Posted 10/15/21

Lillington Town Manager Joseph Jeffries said he steered Highland Paving away from city limits after the company inquired about a rezoning request he felt local commissioners wouldn’t go …

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Looking for land without a fight

Lillington manager steered asphalt plant away from city limits

Posted

Lillington Town Manager Joseph Jeffries said he steered Highland Paving away from city limits after the company inquired about a rezoning request he felt local commissioners wouldn’t go for.

Shortly after Highland Paving failed to get its proposed asphalt plant built in Angier, representatives reached out to Lillington in hopes of finding a new landing spot. Jeffries told the company only two areas in town fell under heavy-industrial zoning districts, the classification Highland Paving needed to build the new facility.

Brian Raynor, the field operations manager for Highland Paving, asked Jeffries about a parcel of land near the location of the current site that required rezoning. Jeffries questioned the idea’s chances of success.

“He asked about rezoning a property that was in the town of Lillington’s jurisdiction and I basically told him that I didn’t think our board would be willing to do that,” Jeffries said. “I did advise them that I didn’t think, now I don’t speak for my board, that they would approve a rezoning to accommodate the asphalt plant right now.”

Faced with a zoning fight similar to Angier with a board not likely to agree with its request, Highland Paving turned its attention to the land it purchased over the summer, which previously got rezoned to industrial more than three decades ago and falls under Harnett County’s jurisdiction.

“The area north of town is in the county jurisdiction and at that point I told him he would need to talk to the county,” Jeffries said. “There is a Canady property right across the street from this property and zoning classification didn’t permit it. He asked about rezoning it and I advised him that wouldn’t be a good idea.”

This wasn’t the first time Highland Paving reached out to Lillington officials.

“They did contact me and I did speak with them,” said Jeffries. “It was right after they got turned down in Angier. They had inquired about property in Lillington prior to that. It’s like any other project that comes into the town: I basically outlined the zoning classification it would have to be in. I can’t remember exactly what I told him ... and after it got turned down in Angier I did get another call back. They inquired about it and I advised them I didn’t think my board would be willing to do that.”

Harnett County officials appeared much more amenable to a partnership. Raynor and Mark Locklear, Harnett County’s director of development services, exchanged emails on May 4 regarding a site location, less than a week after the Angier plans fell through. Locklear told Raynor that senior county leadership planned to meet with him soon. “I spoke with [Assistant County Manager] Coley [Price] and he’s meeting with [County commissioner] Lew [Weatherspoon] today and he says he has a potential site location,” Locklear wrote to Raynor in the May 4 email. “Once Coley meets with him and gets that info we will be in touch regarding a meeting on potential sites. Call me if you have any questions.”

Weatherspoon downplayed his roll in helping Highland Paving with its plant plans in a statement released through the county manager’s office. Weatherspoon highlighted the county’s focus on economic development and said the company’s decision to build a new asphalt plant at the site falls in line with its zoning classification.

“Our Harnett County Board of Commissioners have made economic development a top priority for our County,” Weatherspoon’s statement said. “With economic development growth, the County reaps benefits that include increased tax revenues and competitive paying jobs for our workforce.

“I was not specifically brought in to assist Highland Paving; however, when companies are interested in economic development projects within the County, we can offer support by offering options for locations of their proposed projects. In this case, Highland Paving company found and chose this location in Harnett County since it meets the industrial zoning requirements for their proposed asphalt plant project.”

Jeffries said there previously were back and forth discussions between Lillington and the county about possibly developing the land now owned by Highland Paving into a business or industrial park, but talks eventually fell through.

“It didn’t work out,” said Jeffries. “There were too many environmental issues with trying to do an industrial park or business park I think they were calling it. There’s a flood plain there. I had been working with Lew and [Harnett County Board of Commissioners Chairman W. Brooks Matthews] and meeting with people about trying to come up with an industrial park. There was a lot of conversation about what roll the town of Lillington would play because we’re running a sewer line there and the county already has a sewer line so there was a lot of discussion back and forth. But again, it didn’t work out.”

Highland Paving went through all of the proper legal channels over the summer and currently is clearing the land at the site. Residents in the area oppose the plant’s construction, feeling they were left out of the process altogether.

Eliot Duke can be reached at eduke@mydailyrecord.com or at 910-230-2038. 

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