Property owners in one of the few remaining rural areas of fast-growing Wake County are questioning plans to build a bypass for U.S. 401 that would dissect several long-time family farms.
The plan — orchestrated by the N.C. Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization — could expand the corridor to 19 miles of highway from Banks Road in Walker to Fuquay-Varina and into Lillington in Harnett County. The population in the region is expected to mushroom by 100,000 people by 2045, according to official estimates.
The bypass is included in the 2050 Metropolitan Transportation Plan. Even if approved, it could be a decade or more before workers break ground. But local landowners and some policymakers are concerned about what the plan will mean for small-business farmers who have lived there for generations and continue contributing to the local economy.
N.C. Rep. Erin Pare is one of them. The only Republican member of Wake County’s N.C. House delegation, Pare represents a southern portion of the county that includes all of Fuquay-Varina and parts of Holly Springs and Apex.
Pare says the 401 bypass plans have been in the works for decades, leaving local property owners in limbo. “It handicaps how they can use their property or sell it,” Pare told Carolina Journal.
“The point is they’re not just plots of green space that people own,” she added. “They actually contribute to the overall economy. That’s the missing piece that people don’t pay attention to.”
At a meeting in early December, CAMPO opted to punt on a final vote on the bypass until March. But several members of the public spoke out against the bypass plan.
“We get it,” said local resident Terry Yeargan, whose property is in the planned corridor for the bypass.
“Growth and development will ultimately change and likely eliminate our way of life. What you’re seeing with our comments and prior communication is the beginning of our last gasp of our way of life as it dies,”
Another property owner who spoke at the meeting, Meredith Crawford, owns and manages Pepperwood Farm, a 118-acre horse farm in Fuquay-Varina that includes multiple horse barns, an indoor arena, and an outdoor ring and round pen with lights and a jump field. The farm boards around 60 horses, including steeds for the Raleigh mounted police unit.
Crawford said if the bypass cuts through the farm, it will mean eventual closure. “The economic impact of what our farm provides to the area is significant,” she said. “As a farm, we spend almost $1 million a year with our vendors, with our farriers, just for the farm.”
Seventeen horse farms have closed in fewer than five years, without any new farms created, Crawford said. The industry is shrinking and moving outside counties like Wake and Harnett.
Other property owners have raised concerns about the bypass being too close to Fuquay-Varina — instead, they believe the road should fall farther east and south of the town. Martha Fish is one of them. Her land is part of JC Roland Farms LLC, a working farm, and has been owned by her family for 260 years from the 1761 land grant. She asked that the bypass proposal be removed from the maps to allow time for more study.
Candace Olive Gray is another local former owner. Her family’s property, Olive’s Tree Farm, is 73 acres near Fuquay-Varina. That has been run as a nursery business for two decades. Most of their business is local.
“I make the 17th generation living off this land with hopes that my kids will continue to do the same,” said Gray. “The thoughts of a bypass destroying our homes, livelihood, legacy, and heritage is heartbreaking.”
Local municipal and county leaders have spoken in favor of the bypass.
Blake Massengale, the mayor of Fuquay-Varina, acknowledged landowners’ concerns but said the public benefit of the bypass was crucial.
“I can appreciate the connection that a property owner may have with their own property very much. That said, all of the information that I’ve seen, and from what I’ve been told by transportation planners and consultants, the 401 bypass is needed to support future transportation ability,” he said.
“The 401 bypass is of extreme importance to Harnett County,” said Lewis Weatherspoon, chairman of the Harnett County Board of Commissioners.
Gray said elected officials need a new process for making these decisions.
“I believe the whole CAMPO process needs to be revamped, starting with proper notifications to property owners and our farms that provide extreme economic benefits should be weighed more heavily,” she said.