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Commerce Park taking shape

GATESVILLE — The dream of bringing much-needed retail businesses and services to Gates County has taken a big step towards reality.

The Gates County Board of Commissioners have approved the preliminary plat for Merchants Commerce Park, a planned area of commercial and residential development along a stretch of US 158 in front of Gates County High School.

Additionally, the commissioners have scheduled a special called meeting for 10 a.m. today (Tuesday) for the purpose of discussing the request for qualifications received for engineering services for the Gates County Wastewater Treatment Facility and sewer collection system improvements.

Since earlier this year, the commissioners have been working on plans and looking for funding sources to create a sewer service district along the US 158 corridor at and near the high school.

The development of Merchant’s Commerce Center is part of those ongoing plans.

While it remains unknown exactly what types of businesses will choose to locate in the park, the developer, Kim Old, promised local citizens it would be something they can take pride in instead of having to drive to another county to shop.

“It’s not me; it’s not the commissioners; this is something the citizens of Gates County can be proud of,” Old said at a recent Board of Commissioners meeting. Prior to the public comment portion of the discussion, Gates County Planning Director Morgan Jethro gave an update on the project. She said NCDOT was performing a traffic study and the wetlands in the area had been studied, which is a requirement of the project.

“We’re still working on final design of proposed sewer system that needs to be addressed before final plat can be approved,” Jethro stated.

The public hearing was dominated by comments from two Gates County citizens – J.E. Harrell and Jack Owens. “I’m very excited about this…cautiously so,” Harrell said.

“The citizens of Gates County deserve it, they need it.

My question is who calling the shots on this development as to what businesses come to our county?”

“That will be done by the developer,” Board Chairman Graham Twine answered. “He’ll sell the property, each one of them have to come to the planning board if they want to build there.”

“Our zoning ordinance dictates what type of business can operate there,” added Commissioner Henry Jordan.

“Red flags go crazy in my mind when we say the developer is empowered with what businesses come to our county.

We need restaurants, we need grocery stores,” Harrell stressed.

“He sells the property to those who want to purchase it, then the process goes to the zoning and planning boards, technical review committee, the whole process,” Twine said.

“Is there a need or room to empower a group of Gates County citizens to heavily stress to the developer, whoever it is, what we desire what we want to push for,” Harrell stressed.

“I’d like to see an existing shopping center; I’d like for a group of county citizens or officials to say we like that…the way it serves the people.

It’s important for the county citizens in order for them to get what they deserve or need.

We know what we need.

This is a one shot deal, when it comes I want it to be right, look right and serve us right.”

Twine responded by saying that those behind this effort to bring a commerce center to the county are 100 percent committed to studying this very closely.

He further stated that he, County Manager Toby Chappell and Jordan recently looked at a commerce center in Moyock, similar to what is planned in Gates County, and were impressed with what they saw.

“I need much more than it’s going to look nice…I want it to be right for the needs of our citizens,” Harrell said.

Olds, who lives in Currituck County, said this was a big project and he was working closely with the county to put this all together.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” Olds noted.

“I want you to know that whatever project I work on I want it to be right; I want to take pride in it. As far as addressing your concerns about the types of businesses; certainly we have the right, if approved, to sell it to whoever we want to.

We will have a set of covenants that will control the appearance of the buildings. I did not do the Moyock Commons, but I like it.

This has been modeled from that.”

“I’ve lived here 57 years, I have a vested interest here and will respectively would tell any developer in regards to such a project that I probably don’t want a little bit of control; I want a lot of control of what goes here,” Harrell concluded.

“I’ve personally sat down with Mr. Olds and shared some of the same comments that Mr. Harrell did,” said Owens, Chairman of the Gates County Chamber of Commerce.

“This is our one opportunity to take a major project and do it very well.

This could be a gem, a nugget for Gates County to draw other companies.

We can tell those companies that we have a real opportunity here for you…not just companies from Ahoskie, but from Greensboro, Raleigh, and Wilson why don’t you branch out in Gates County.” Owens continued, “We have no authority on how the dollars are spent.

We have no control if Bojangles comes here or McDonalds, that’s up to those companies.

We’re trying to make the picture and the story sound right so they will consider us.

The Chamber wants to proactively help a buyer of property there attract businesses.

The more good stuff that we can put out there helps Mr. Olds develop the property, it will bring revenue and it helps with our tax base.

We should be excited about this and we should embrace this.”

Jethro reminded everyone that the county’s zoning ordinance takes precedence. Businesses are regulated by the board of adjustments.

Those requiring special use permits will be very closely studied.

“I’m excited about this, it’s been a long time coming,” Commissioner Wade Askew said just prior to the board, in a unanimous vote, approving the preliminary plat.