Staley resident voices concern with Wolfspeed development

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STALEY — Connecticut-born Dean Betts moved to Staley from his home state three years ago to receive cancer treatment at Duke University Hospital and, he hoped, to live out the rest of his life in peace.

Staley — a town of around 660 people in Chatham County — seemed like the perfect place for Betts to settle down with Chance, the dog he calls the “Queen of Staley.”

What Betts couldn’t have known when he bought his Benjie Williams Road home was that one of the largest computer chip manufacturing plants in the U.S. would eventually make plans to locate close his property line.

“I bought a house where I wanted to finish out my life; that’s all I wanted,” Betts said.

Wolfspeed recently announced it would come to the Chatham-Siler City Manufacturing Site (CAM Site) to build; preemptive grounding plans approved by the Siler City Planning Department show the facility will most likely be within 1,000 feet of Betts’ land.

“They want to come here and right up to my backyard,” Betts said.

Wolfspeed acquired additional portions of land, about 81 acres, near Benjie Williams Road from private property owners, which helped the project come to fruition. And Betts’s main concern with the development isn’t Wolfspeed itself — rather, fears his property will be taken by the state through eminent domain to develop roadways necessary to enter the proposed facility.

“There’s going to have to be a long stretch of road right here to get to it — trucks just can’t go from 55 miles an hour and make a hard right turn,” Betts said. “In fact, there’s a new stake in front of my house with a red flag, and I see all the other ones going with white flags. Mine is the beginning — that’s where that’s going to start, right in my front yard.”

Betts became aware of his plight when he received a letter from the town of Siler City about a public hearing on a rezoning request for a land parcel down the street from him and behind his house. He responded by sending email messages to Siler City Community and Planning Director Jack Meadows expressing his grievances with the proposed project. That communication with Meadows began on Sept. 5 after Betts received the town’s notice in the mail regarding the rezoning request — four days before Wolfspeed announced its new CAM site location.

Betts eventually requested documents related to the rezoning request; Meadows sent Betts a copy of the parcel rezoning application. That application included the resolution and ordinance commissioners approved on Sept. 19, maps of the land parcels and surrounding properties, lists of neighboring property owners and contact information for the developers.

“[The application] says the proposed rezoning is consistent with the land development plan, and it also goes on to say an inclusion of the last parcels is needed for the CAM megasite pending project,” Betts said. “There’s no evidence that these were needed. I’ve got other evidence that there are 1,500 acres where they could have gone — that these 81 acres aren’t needed.”

Complicating matters: a week and half before the board of commissioners meeting and during his email exchanges with Meadows, Betts’ internet — along with all of his neighbors’ internet on Benjie Williams Road — went down.

“Everything was down,” Betts said. “I had to go to the library and Staples [in Asheboro] to reproduce all the documents he (Meadows) sent me.”

Without internet access, Betts was forced to do his research in public places, compromising his already suppressed immune system; in fact, he says he wound up in urgent care after becoming ill from exposure to others in the community.

Betts went to both Siler City Planning Board and Siler City Board of Commissioners meetings to vocalize his worries to appointed and elected officials. He shared that it’s not just about his personal property — he said wildlife will also be impacted by the development.

“They’re capturing a waterway over there and a pond up by the fence, so what’s the plan to save that waterway,” Betts said. “How many of these projects go up and those things dry up? All the wildlife is lost, and that’s all here.”

Betts claims the town is hiding information from the community regarding the project.

“I couldn’t argue with any of that because they’re not giving me the information — they’re hiding it all,” Betts said. “This is the language, and it’s not legal. Well, it will be legal if I don’t fight it.”

In response, Meadows told the News + Record he explained each piece of the application he sent to Betts, including a map of the grounding work approved by planning department staff. The main CAM site land had been zoned as heavy industrial when creating the land use plan in 2017; the only land requiring a rezoning request was the 81 acres Wolfspeed acquired for its new facility.

Meadows said he’s met with Betts on several occasions to explain what his department and the town are responsible for throughout the stages of Wolfspeed’s development. Meadows said that the parcel directly behind Betts’s property is split in half by a creek; Wolfspeed, Meadows said, will be developing on the side farthest from Betts’s land. And one of the parcels of land Wolfspeed was interested in, parcel 12553, wasn’t sold to the company in the end.

“Wolfspeed decided to not buy it, so it’s still going to be zoned for residential,” Meadows said.

Meadows also said based on conversations he’s had with developers, there will be a 100-foot-long vegetative buffer around the creek dividing the parcel of land behind Betts’s house. Developers can’t touch the area around the buffer, meaning there will be an additional 100 feet of space between Betts’s property and Wolfspeed’s facility.

Wolfspeed still has to send development plans to Meadows, which would indicate where buildings, parking lots and roads for the new chip manufacturing facility will go.

“We haven’t gotten that far yet to see their development plan,” Meadows said. “I believe it’s coming. I don’t know what date it’s coming in, but it’s coming soon.”

Meadows thinks Betts still has a misunderstanding about the development process. Plans haven’t been finalized or approved, aside from leveling and grounding work, and no eminent domain proceedings are planned that Meadows or Town Manager Hank Raper are aware of.

Meadows said only NCDOT or the Siler City Town Manager would be aware of any sort of eminent domain request.

The News + Record reached out to NCDOT for comment, but didn’t receive a response by the time of publication.

Raper, the town manager, said his department isn’t pursuing any form of eminent domain around the Wolfspeed property. In fact, he said Wolfspeed isn’t interested in taking any property as eminent domain.

“A lot of companies will start buying land around their property, but Wolfspeed has been adamant about not doing that,” Raper said.

Still, Betts said he’s still worried about the state coming in and taking his land for a road to Wolfspeed.

“All I’m doing is trying to get the record set, and they wouldn’t let me know what’s going on,” Betts said. “I’m not here for big chip factories, that’s not what I bought my house for.”

Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at theeden@chathamnr.com.

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