The Orange County Board of County Commissioners confronted the beaver in the room Tuesday evening during a public hearing regarding the proposed Efland Station, a sprawling complex that would include the construction of a Buc-ee’s travel center.

More than 110 people signed up to speak on Tuesday, with only one person requesting to speak on something other than Buc-ee’s. The commissioners selected the first 20 people who signed up to speak that night and added two additional days—January 5 and 12—for folks to have their say.

Of the 20 people who shared comments Tuesday night, Buc-ee’s opponents outnumbered supporters 3:1. Some spoke about how the development would affect their quality of life.

“We are not in west Texas, and we don’t want to become another I-95 South of the Border complex,” Cedar Grove resident Ann Talton said. “Please don’t let Buc-ee’s overrun you or Orange County.”

The vote to rezone the area and approve the project will take place at the January 19 board meeting. The board also intends to have the county’s Commission for the Environment review the plans in order to comment on environmental concerns, such as the potential dangers of building a gas station on a protected watershed. 

Environmental concerns were a primary motivator for several speakers.

“I would like to raise foster kids in Hillsborough, giving them everything I had growing up,” Erin Mulaney, a current Chapel Hill resident, said at the hearing. “One of the most important things essential to life is clean water. Once our water is unusable, there’s no going back.”

Robin Taylor-Hall, a real estate agent who says she first listed the vacant lots in 2005, spoke in support of the development.

“Tax revenue is going to lower taxes for other people,” Taylor-Hall told the board. “I’m in real estate; not only commercial but residential. More and more, people ask me to go to Alamance County because they can’t afford Orange County. I would think you would want Orange County to be more affordable because that’s one of the buzzwords politicians use.”

Other speakers referenced the commissioners’ publicized goals and priorities, which say the board will “create, preserve, and protect a natural environment that includes clean water, clean air, wildlife, important natural lands, and sustainable energy for present and future generations.”

A few referenced a CBS17 article published that day, where Commissioner Earl McKee said “no project is all blue skies and butterflies.” 

“Commissioners, I think we all want blue skies and butterflies, and it’s folks that don’t want blue skies and butterflies that we have to worry about,” Efland resident Catherine Matthews said. “Blue skies and butterflies are certainly two things that I don’t think we want to lose.”

During the meeting, Commissioner McKee asked the board to consider holding the other hearings in December but was outvoted by the rest of the board. Commissioner Mark Dorosin asked the board to consider hearing 25 people that night instead of 20 but was also outvoted in the interest of time.

Prior to the public hearing, both the Orange County Planning Department and a Buc-ee’s representative gave presentations on the proposed development. During the presentation, Buc-ee’s attorney Beth Traho said that the company had never had a reportable oil leak incident, and intended to keep it that way. Traho also mentioned that the group had allotted 38 percent of the property to be open green space, despite the minimum requirement being 30 percent.

Coincidentally, the agenda also included recognizing Dr. Alice M. Gordon, a longtime county commissioner who received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award. Among Gordon’s standout achievements was her commitment to sustainability; she helped create the Lands Legacy Program, which has protected over 3,000 acres of forests and farmland in the county.

The board plans to continue the conversation into the new year. Prior to the January 19 vote, board Chair Renee Price said Orange County residents who did not sign up for public comment could continue to email their comments to the commissioners.

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