A major potential economic development site in Jonathan Creek is moving forward, as Haywood County government officials have approved a contract to begin site development.
The contract pertains to work needed to move a property formerly slated for a county recreation facility out of the floodplain to make it more appealing to a potential developer.
The county has had some interest in the property, but so far there have been no takers for the undeveloped site. The hope, according to several of the Haywood County commissioners, is to make the property more attractive by doing the groundwork necessary to prep it for development.
“When people come in and are looking, they want a shovel-ready site,” said Commissioner Brandon Rogers during the board’s Aug. 5 meeting. “Whether you agree with us purchasing the property or not is one thing, but now that we’ve got it we need to try to do something with it.”
During that meeting, the commissioners awarded a contract to K and T Construction for just over $494,000 to excavate, haul and compact 33,500 cubic yards of soil from a site on Dennis Hall Farm Road to the Jonathan Creek site.
The bid amount for each of the prospective contractors submitted during the bid process likely overshot the actual cost of the project when the dust settles, since allowances were included in each bid for the possibility of costly rock removal on the site. After extensive testing, though, County Manager Bryant Morehead said he didn’t expect those allowances for up to $20,000 would be necessary.
“At the pre-bid meeting, some of the contractors asked, ‘What if we run into rock? Do we have an allowance for that?’” Morehead said. “So we allowed them to bid with a rock allowance included, but the county did our due diligence on that and did soil sampling. Because of the size of that property and the tests we did, we’re fairly sure there aren’t too many rocks.”
That being said, the allowance provides some wiggle room just in case.
“Sometimes, when you dig, you find stuff you don’t like,” Morehead said.
K and T Construction’s bid came out almost $200,000 below the next bidder. Part of the reason behind the low bid is K and T’s ability to provide hydroseeding, which grows grass back on the property once the work is completed, in-house. Such a specialized service is costly if subcontracted out, which translated to major savings on the project bid.
A slow start
The Jonathan Creek Soil Reclamation project has followed a somewhat haphazard trajectory to arrive where it is now, as the initial plans to build a county recreation facility fell through after the property was purchased in 2007. Soon after the purchase, the bottom fell out of the real estate market and left the county holding onto a piece of land during the Great Recession when governments were cutting costs, not building recreation facilities.
To build a permanent structure or structures on the land using all the acreage, a developer or the county would have to fill in the portion of the site in the floodplain to remove it from the potential path of water in the event of flooding.
After all these hurdles, there has been some public outcry about spending more money on the site just to make it a viable option for developers. Haywood County Board of Commissioners Chairman Kevin Ensley argued that the project is likely to reap major financial benefits in the long run, though, if a developer eventually picks up the improved property.
Ensley pointed to the Waynesville Commons shopping center — which formerly housed the Dayco factory before it was shuttered and eventually developed into a Walmart, Best Buy and more — as just one example of a project with high up-front costs that has reaped big benefits for the county in the long run.
“Probably the majority of the Haywood County sales tax revenue comes from (Waynesville Commons),” Ensley said. “It was totally out of use, just a big empty building, and since 2011 we’re reaping over $260,000 a year in property taxes, and that doesn’t include the sales tax revenue we see, that doesn’t count the jobs there.”