Buckhorn Village: “Business as Usual” or sensible economic development?

In the initial news reports Buckhorn was touted as “a center like The Streets at Southpoint” (N&O, Jan 12). Over a million square feet of retail, hotel & movie theater uses are proposed on 128 acres at the intersection of Buckhorn Road and I40/I85. At the west end of one of the County’s Economic Development Districts (EDDs), this was for many years the site of a thriving flea market. Some of the materials submitted by the developers hint at the inclusion of residential and office uses, but most of their documents and statements to the press indicate that their interest in these is very low. They estimate the County would realize $7.2 million a year in sales & property tax revenues. But what might these revenues cost us?

That a development of such magnitude is being considered for the County raises questions like these:

  • The County is currently updating the Comprehensive Plan, the policy document that will guide future land use, transportation & economic decisions for the next 30 years. Why consider Buckhorn before we have a better idea what sort of economic model & land use patterns we want in the County’s EDDs?
  • What will be the CO2 impacts from the projected 40,700 daily automobile & truck trips in and out of Buckhorn? The County’s draft CO2 inventory shows transportation already comprises 49% of our emissions. The purpose of this inventory is to set a target and identify strategies for reducing emissions. Why consider a project of this magnitude before completing this important work?
  • These sorts of chain store retail centers offer mainly imports from overseas countries that do not hold the environment and the health and safety of their employees in as high regard as we do. Buckhorn represents a continuation of American consumption that is driving the Chinese economy that plans to build hundreds more coal burning power plants. Do we really want this sort of “smokestack by proxy” industry?
  • This retail-hotel-theater model provides mostly very low wage, high-turnover employment. The developers claim Buckhorn will help us toward the County’s goal of creating 5000 new jobs. Are these the kinds of jobs the County intended?
  • Will Buckhorn’s developers include sufficient housing that these employees will be able to afford, or leave them to fend for themselves with long commutes?
  • Authors like Michael Shuman have documented how retail centers like Buckhorn undermine small, locally owned businesses. Haven’t we been saying we want to build a local entrepreneurial economy? How can we engender a “Local Living Economy” at the same time we’re consigning precious space in our EDDs to the antithesis of such an economy?
  • And, as the price of oil continues its inexorable climb and the need for huge reductions in CO2 emissions becomes more obvious, will an import-dependent economy be a reliable source of revenue over the long haul?
  • What happened to the sort of transparent public process in this instance that has allowed a project of this size to appear so suddenly?

At a time when the urgency to suspend “business as usual” and address Climate Change grows daily, and keeping in mind the kind of environmental leadership Orange County has taken for the past 3 decades, why the rush to consider this sort of development before we’ve made some critical decisions about the sort of future we want in Orange County?

The Public Hearing on Buckhorn is scheduled for Monday, February 25. Be there, and ask the Commissioners to hit the “Pause” button.


As a twenty year Orange County resident of the general Buckhorn area I've been interested in the proposals for this region of western Orange for quite some time. Initially, I was extremely dismayed to learn of plans to turn the Buckhorn Jockey lot into a giant retail center. It seemed that would just increase congestion in an area that locals have been avoiding on weekends for a long time due to Flea market traffic.

Over the years I've watched Hillsborough and Mebane struggle with decisions regarding big box retailers and ever expanding retail sprawl. But, it seems to me that simply attempting to halt proposed retail space expansion rarely works well. If anything, in this case it might just move the project down the interstate a few exits into neighboring Alamance, meaning that once again Orange would see no tax benefits.

So, I have an idea on how this area might be developed in a manner that would benefit residents of both Orange and Alamance counties and would be in keeping with the larger goals of both the Village Project and the distinctly different Buckhorn Village Project.

What the Buckhorn Village needs is a regional farmer's market with a regular daily schedule, coupled with a restaurant featuring locally grown products and an art consignment gallery featuring works by local artists and craftspeople. There are a number of reasons why the Buckhorn exchange area is uniquely suited to a regional farmer's market.

  • Both the Raleigh and Piedmont NCDA farmer's markets are at capacity.
  • Buckhorn is sited between these two giant markets, and would draw people from Greensboro to Durham, while actually decreasing the amount of driving necessary for residents of Orange, Alamance, Caswell and Person counties wishing to shop or sell there.
  • While the individual city markets in Carrboro, Hillsborough and Durham are quite successful on weekends and selected evenings in season, there is no local daily market other than private outlets such as Weaver Street or Whole Foods who generally pay local growers only wholesale.
  • These individual city markets can not keep up with current demand either from consumers or from growers that would like to sell there.
  • A regional farmer's market/restaurant/artist gallery complex at Buckhorn would not only draw more people to Buckhorn Village, but it would encourage Buckhorn Village patrons to spend some money with local vendors, who would be more likely to keep that money local.
  • A farmer's market and retail space for locally produced items would make this project a whole lot more palatable to many of us that live in the area.
  • While never a proper farmer's market, the previous Buckhorn Jockey Lot was at least a place where some, (admittedly few), locally produced items could be sold, so the Buckhorn Village is displacing that capacity.

Is the impact of Buckhorn Village on Highway 70, just north of the interstate even being considered? So far, materials submitted by the developer would seem to indicate that NO consideration for increased traffic north of the interstate has even been in the equation. Why not? What impact is this going to have on the many neighborhoods to the north? Are the intersections of Buckhorn and Hwy 70 and Frazier Rd and Hwy 70 going to need to be widened? Are they going to need stoplights?

Granted, most traffic will likely be coming off the interstate, but given that both Hwy 70 to the north and West Ten to the south parallel the interstate at that point, it's only logical to conclude that a significant amount of traffic will use both those alternate arteries to get to Buckhorn Village. Are plans including this increase in traffic and congestion part of the package that the county needs to require?


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