'); } -->
Share your community news, announcements and events with us.
A nuclear power plant can be a real bummer for a suburb.
Holly Springs is one of the fastest-expanding municipalities in the state, but the town’s borders are running up against the sprawling real-estate wall known as the Shearon Harris Nuclear Generating Station.
The distinctive reactor and its cooling lake, Harris Lake, straddle a huge chunk of one of Wake County’s last empty corners, hemmed in by Holly Springs, Fuquay-Varina and Apex.
And the power company’s real-estate stake goes way beyond the fence: Duke Energy owns more than 10,000 acres of largely vacant land that stretches up U.S. 1 and curls alongside the subdivisions at Holly Springs’ western edge.
Together, Duke owns the largest private stretch in the county, much of it acquired by eminent domain in the 1970s. Today, the company effectively controls a booming town’s real-estate frontier.
“It does have a big impact on the future of Holly Springs,” said Gina Clapp, the town’s planning director. “That ... area to us is a really prime location.”
In fact, Holly Springs has designs on the area. Town staff envision the son of Research Triangle Park, a massive research and development park on the town’s northwestern flank, occupying hundreds or thousands of acres of the power plant-owned land.
It’s an ambitious plan, and it largely depends on the power company’s whims. The question is whether Duke is game to sell the land or whether it wants to, say, build two nuclear reactors and put thousands of acres underwater in a decade.
The latter is a distinct possibility, and Duke Energy is slogging through a years-long federal approval process to make it happen. If it succeeds, the company could raise Harris Lake’s water levels by 20 feet. That’s a dramatic possibility, and it breeds the thing developers hate most: uncertainty.
So, Holly Springs is fighting back with master planning. A new town document, scheduled for release early this fall, neatly parcels out the Duke land and a few thousand acres more.
The plan envisions “research technology” use of hundreds of acres northwest of the town, much of it on a peninsula surrounded by the potential new reaches of Harris Lake. A new mixed-use residential and retail center, meanwhile, would sit west of Friendship Road and U.S. 1.
In all, the town’s “northwest area plan” encompasses about 10,000 acres, of which Duke Energy controls almost 65 percent. The town has kept the power company up-to-date on its big idea, but Duke Energy so far has kept its plans close to its chest, Clapp said.
But Julia Milstead, a spokeswoman for Duke Energy, said the company is open to sales.
“As the community changes, there’s always going to be an interest in land that’s available,” she said. “If we don’t need it, and it’s suitable to sell, then we’ll sell.”
There have been some promising signs so far for Holly Springs and its prospective developers. Progress Energy sold about 113 acres for use in the massive Veridea development near Apex and almost sold 425 acres near Holly Springs’ 12 Oaks development in 2002.
If Duke Energy doesn’t eventually sell, Clapp said, the town will funnel development farther south, and toward other willing landowners near Harris Lake.
Longtime landowner Susan Clark said she and her husband have for years heard developers’ pitches about their 120 acres west of town. Clark remembers when Carolina Power & Light, now Progress Energy, forcibly purchased neighbors’ land, sowing hard feelings and leaving jagged property lines.
Now they’re told that their land, which borders Duke Energy’s sprawling parcel, would be perfect for residential development.
“I guess we just sort of assume that we certainly want to keep it undeveloped,” said the Chatham County resident. “It’s very beautiful down there.”