Florida investors plan new neighborhood in North Durham

Florida investors plan to build a 141-home subdivision in Bahama after a permit and site plan were approved by the Durham County Board of Commissioners Monday night.

The land was originally planned for Wetrock Farm, a development of the same size with a working organic farm at its heart.

Commissioners gave the green light to the project in 2015 and construction began in 2019, The News & Observer previously reported, before stalling as money dried up.

“The concept failed. No one came forward to buy land or houses. It was an idea whose time has not yet come,” Patrick Byker, the lawyer for the new promoter, told the commissioners on Monday.

Boca Raton-based investment firm III Capital Management, Wetrock Farm’s lender, bought the acreage in northern County Durham in early 2021 for $4,765,500, property records show. The deed stood in lieu of foreclosure, Byker said.

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A Florida investor hopes to build a 142-home subdivision in the Bahamas community in rural North Durham. It would be located along North Roxboro Road and Preston Andrews Road. City and County Durham Planning Department

Monday night’s votes — both unanimous — were for a permit for an on-site water and sewer system and a site plan for the “conservation subdivision.”

A conservation subdivision has at least 50% of its area designated as open space. Instead of units being spread over a large expanse of land, they are concentrated in smaller areas.

“The Conservation Subdivision Ordinance is designed to really incentivize the preservation of environmentally sensitive land, open space and farmland in the county,” Planning Director Sara Young explained. “It has some environmental benefits. It certainly has benefits in terms of habitat preservation, as well as the aesthetics of maintaining a rural character in some of our rural areas.

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The team behind Wetrock Farm posed for a photo on the property, with Rick Bagel, the driving force behind the project, pictured third from right. Courtesy of Wetrock Farm

The future subdivision, named Mason Farms, is located on 287 acres southwest of the North Roxboro and Preston Andrews roads.

“If you drive down Roxboro Road, you will see very few houses,” noted commissioners’ vice-chairman Wendy Jacobs. “Very minimal visual impact.”

Gary MacConnell, president of Cary-based engineering firm MacConnell Associates, said community water and wastewater systems would be best suited to the site because city lines don’t extend as far North.

“Instead of trying to run 141 septic tanks, there’s a system that’s going to be run basically by a private utility that’s also regulated by the state,” MacConnell said. “I can’t think of a better system to have for an area like this.”

The neighborhood will have two entrances, both on the two-lane Preston Andrews Road, where a westbound left turn lane has already been added.

Commissioner Heidi Carter asked traffic engineer Mary Lynn Smith if the site plan encouraged cycling and walking.

“This area is not one that has a lot of existing pedestrian connectivity. I think it would promote it internally,” Smith replied.

The two-hour discussion caught the attention of members of Preserve Rural Durham, some grateful for the conservation efforts and others pressing for more time.

A resident wearing the band’s bright green t-shirt called for the vote to be postponed for 60 days as many were unaware the property had changed hands and was being redeveloped.

“We haven’t received enough information. We were unable to consult with our own experts,” said Katharine Ross.

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Construction began in 2019 on the Wetrock Farm subdivision in Bahama. The project fell through and investors bought the land in 2021 as lockdown loomed. Courtesy of Wetrock Farm

The developers managed to persuade the commissioners that since the houses were already allowed to be built by right – meaning the current zoning allowed construction without a council vote – a community sewer system would be the best environmentally.

“Typically, rural development ends up being de jure with an individual well and an individual septic tank, meaning it’s designed to support a house on a piece of land,” Young said.

After the meeting, Byker said they would get a builder as soon as possible.

The Durham Report

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Mary Helen Moore covers Durham for The News & Observer. She grew up in eastern North Carolina and attended UNC-Chapel Hill before spending several years working at newspapers in Florida. Outside of work, you might find her riding her bike, reading, or petting plants.

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