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An artist's conception of the new Toyota megasite off Highway 421. 

Time to look ahead

LIBERTY — The members of the Liberty Planning Board took the next steps toward addressing the opportunities and challenges that industrial development in the area presents at their Nov. 9 meeting. 

 

It is a process that Board Chair Kevin Bowman said was begun in 2019 but stymied by the complications caused by the COVID-19 epidemic.

 

Specifically, the board — along with consultant Reynolds Neely — discussed setting meetings with the public in January and February to decide how the town will address the expected growth in and around Liberty once the Toyota battery facility and the Wolfspeed silicon carbide production facility come online.

 

The Toyota battery facility is under construction at the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite off U.S. 421 outside Liberty. It will produce electric batteries for the company’s vehicles and is expected, at last report, to create 2,500 jobs in the first phase. Hiring is expected to begin in 2024.

 

Wolfspeed announced in September that the company will build at a facility at the Chatham-Siler City Advanced Manufacturing site which will primarily produce 200mm silicon carbide wafers used in the automotive industry. Phase one construction is anticipated to be completed in 2024 and cost approximately $1.3 billion. 

 

Over an eight-year period, Wolfspeed expects to create roughly 1,800 jobs. With Siler City just 10 miles south on U.S. 421, the facility is expected to have almost as large an impact in Liberty as in Siler City.

 

Neely said the meeting in January will be to gather information.

 

“The second meeting will be to let the public know what we propose,” he said.

 

The public meetings to be held next year are designed to allow Liberty residents to give input on how the development will occur within the city and its extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ). 

 

Piedmont Triad Regional Council (PTRC) is helping to develop a survey to be distributed to citizens. Jesse Day, PTRC regional planning director, gave board members a draft survey at the meeting. 

 

Day said the council has also worked with Randleman and Ramseur on new growth management plans.

 

Several board members brought up the importance of retaining a “small town atmosphere” in Liberty. Day pointed out the survey will help pinpoint what citizens mean when they use that phrase.

 

Potential questions on the survey ask for opinions on recreation, open space development, types of housing development and transportation needs. It will likely include specific questions about development around major roads in the town, like West Swannanoa Avenue, North Greensboro Street and NC 49.

 

The goal is to have governmental guidance in place before the expected influx of residential and commercial development that will come with the new industries.

 

Town manager Scott Kidd said he has been in contact with other government officials in Greer, SC, where BMW built its first manufacturing facility outside Germany in 1992. That facility has experienced at least five major expansions.

 

In October, SC Gov. Henry McMasters’ office issued a press release announcing BMW will make a new $1.7 billion investment in its South Carolina operations, including $1 billion to prepare for the production of electric vehicles at the facility.

 

Kidd said officials in Greer told him although the original BMW facility opened in 1992, the first residential and commercial impact wasn’t really felt until about one year later.

 

“We are expecting the Toyota plant to begin hiring in 2024,” he said. “That means we can expect 2025 to 2026 is when we will see the residential growth.”

 

The board is expected to have a better idea of when the public meetings will be scheduled at next meeting on Dec. 14. Planning Board meetings are held at Town Hall, 239 S. Fayetteville St., beginning at 5:30 p.m. and are open to the public.