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Council okays north Durham industrial park

More than 150 acres of land in northern Durham will soon be converted into an industrial hub called “Welcome Venture Park.”

At a Feb. 20 City Council meeting, real estate firm Welcome Group requested the rezoning and voluntary annexation of land by the intersection of Hamlin and Old Oxford Roads. 

Despite concerns from residents of the nearby Braggtown community, the motions passed unanimously, ushering in the construction of 1.3 million square feet of industrial space.

Currently, the 157 acres of land are mostly vacant and forested. Homes and existing businesses border the property, including  a metal fabricating company, and a biopharma manufacturing facility, KBI Biopharma. In the coming months, it will be revamped by the Welcome Group, a Houston-based land development company that primarily owns properties in the Southeast.

Patrick Byker, an attorney representing the developer, shared an environmental remediation plan in store for Welcome Venture Park. The land was deemed a brownfield site in 2021 after a neighboring Mitsubishi semiconductor facility spilled volatile organic compounds, and after chlorinated solvents were released at the nearby Beckmann-Durham-Sandefur state hazardous waste site.

At the meeting, some Durham residents expressed concerns that the industrial park would fail to meet the needs of the community, potentially driving up the cost of living nearby.

“If you’re a leading company, lead this community to something better than where we are now,” said Vanessa Mason Evans, a resident and chair of the Braggtown Community Association, a historically Black and working-class neighborhood near the site.

After 14 meetings with neighbors over the course of 13 months, Welcome Group committed to fulfilling several requests from the community. This included creating an evergreen shrub buffer to separate residents who live adjacent to the development and banning several types of commercial enterprises on the land, including gas stations and drive-through restaurants. 

Welcome Group will also supply $30,000 to Durham Technical Community College as a scholarship fund for local residents to learn a construction trade. 

“To my knowledge, this is 30,000 more dollars in scholarships than any other business park in Durham, ever, has proffered to benefit the community,” Byker said. Welcome Group decided to create this scholarship after hearing concerns from community members and the Durham Planning Commission that potential high-paying jobs at the new business park would exclude local residents.

“We don’t want just a one-time drop in the bucket, and then leave,” said Evans, who asked Welcome Group to establish a long-lasting endowment, rather than a temporary scholarship. Evans emphasized that the $30,000 would only serve 20 students. “We’re hoping that this is going to be something that can be a tremendous change. Not just for Braggtown, for all of Durham.”

Evans and other nearby residents had requested $200,000 in funds instead. But Byker said that was beyond what the developer could provide, citing construction costs such as water and sewer infrastructure and parking. According to Ted Karambouras, lead developer on the project, Welcome Group hopes to break ground sometime in 2023. It’s unclear which corporations will set up offices in the industrial park.

“We will cater to a variety of tenants that are around the Raleigh-Durham market, so it could vary,” Kakabouras said.