A July 20 meeting of the Warren County Economic Development Commission board, along with County Manager Vincent Jones heard comments from the public and provided updates on projects in progress throughout the county.
A submission by Mike Ernzen opened the comments section of the meeting. “If we get a vote, mine is a big No!” he wrote with regard to the Chateau on the Lake, the $100 million hotel project that former EDC Director Stacy Woodhouse helped bring about for Lake Gaston.
“What happens if it gets built and goes bankrupt?” Carolyn Hobgood asked.
Hers was one in a series of comments read by Charla Duncan, senior assistant to the county manager. Duncan was named the point of contact for all EDC-related matters while a search is conducted for a new director following Woodhouse’s resignation on June 23.
Citing traffic congestion, water and sewer treatment, and negative environmental impact, David Deck said he’s strongly opposed to the zoning changes that would allow Chateau at the Lake to move forward.
“I am very much against this development as are a majority of my neighbors,” he wrote. “I respectfully ask that you not approve any zoning changes for this proposed development, and the development itself.”
Louis Arp attended the meeting in person, spoke briefly and submitted his comments in writing. As a member of Eaton’s Ferry Estates Property Owners Association, which represents 300 Warren County taxpayers, Arp said, “We oppose the high density zoning changes being requested by Chateau on the Lake developer.”
He said the development is problematic in many ways, including “creating major environmental, traffic and boating safety issues, lack of waste water treatment capacity for the development and property owners along the distribution route, and a questionable business model with a high degree of risk.”
Littleton resident Joe Johnson, who also attended in person said, “As a former developer of active adult communities in Raleigh and Cary, on topographically challenged land, I can assure the county that the expense of attempting to develop and maintain a user friendly 'beach' at that location will be a very expensive exercise.”
He went on to say, “As taxpayers, we encourage the Warren County Board of Commissioners to take a real hard look at the long-term cost and effects of accepting a donation of the 1.84 acre parcel. Now is the time to embark on serious due diligence before the county gets too far committed into a project it will regret doing.”
Betty Mazor expressed concerns about too much traffic.
“It’s entirely too big for this location,” she wrote of the proposed project.
“I do believe that we need a hotel, doctor’s office and retail stores here in Warren County, and that tax revenue from such would be welcomed. However, these revenues do not and should not be all located on the same piece of property that leads into a two-lane highway and two-lane bridge.”
County Manager Vincent Jones said a Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting will need to be held in order give the final recommendation to the Board of Commissioners for the project to move forward.
However, he said no additional work will be done by the county until it’s safe to hold an in-person meeting, when residents can make additional comments and express further concerns. In the meantime, those who wish to do so can send their comments to the Zoning Board of Adjustment.
After meeting with Woodhouse, Duncan reported the following progress on the projects he was working on.
According to a July 10 email, the developer once interested in building a multi-family apartment building on the land across from Mazatlan in Warrenton’s Extraterritorial Jurisdiction has withdrawn from the 2020 cycle.
A housing project in Warrenton with no county money involved has been handed off to the town.
The hotel portion of the Wise interchange project off Interstate 85 is on hold, but construction of new sewer infrastructure is moving forward this summer.
The Heritage Mulch project, which had gone before the Board of Commissioners in October 2019, received funding support for a waterline extension project not to exceed $40,000. Further communication will be necessary to determine the status of this project going forward.
A potential project involving a CBD extraction company and the old Norlina High School facility is no longer viable.
Resignations and reappointments
Joseph Kronner resigned from the EDC board, while members Claude O’Hagan and Jane Ball-Groom will go before the Board of Commissioners for reappointment.
Carl Lynch, the former EDC board chairman, resigned after serving three terms. Lynch would have had to come off the board before being reappointed had he wanted to stay on. Dr. Ray Spain is now the board chairman.
“It was time for me to leave,” Lynch said. Asked about the decision to change the EDC by-laws that prompted Woodhouse’s resignation, Lynch said he was not part of the decision. Not consulted by either the county manager or the board of commissioners chairman, Lynch said he doesn’t know anything about what prompted the change.
“It’s less my business now,” Lynch said. “But I’m curious myself about what transpired.”
Originally created to operate somewhat independently from the Board of Commissioners, Lynch said he imagines the decision was an attempt to bring the EDC under the auspices of county government.
“It could be good and could be bad depending on what they decide to do,” he said. “I don’t know where we go from here. There were a lot of good things going on prior to now that might not come to fruition.”
While allowing that it’s pure speculation and just his humble opinion, the retired former HR professional said it seemed like “[Woodhouse] wanted to run and others wanted to walk — slowly.”
With a strong interest in seeing the county move forward, Lynch said some ideas and industries will be good for the county and others might not be.
“I hope they get past the bumps in the road and do their best for the county,” he said of the EDC Board.
Of Woodhouse, Lynch said, “The guy is brilliant, no doubt about it. His decision to leave is, in my opinion, a loss to the county.”
Lynch said it would have been interesting to see what Woodhouse could have done had he been given the full range of support to implement his and others’ ideas. “He was the best I’ve ever seen at pulling things together.”
But now Lynch said the ball is in the court of the county manager and the board of commissioners.
“I wish them nothing but success,” he said. “I hope someone comes in who can pick up the pieces and serve the citizens of Warren County.”