Wendell, N.C. — Growth in once rural eastern Wake County is getting another boost.
Wendell's planning board approved plans Monday for a retail center that could rival the size of some in Raleigh.
Wendell has long been known as a small, rural town. As in other communities in eastern Wake County, however, the U.S. Highway 64/264 Bypass is shuttling in a new landscape for Wendell.
“It's an exciting time for those who have put a lot of work and effort into it,” town Planning Director Teresa Piner said.
Construction is under way on the new Wendell Falls subdivision. With 4,000 homes, the project is expected to double the town's population.
The town's planning board also decided Monday to expand 2 million square feet of commercial development space for the project. That's room for retail, restaurants and a new medical facility for WakeMed.
“We couldn't wait for the new highway to be here, and now it has enhanced everything about our town,” said Ula Mae Life, with the Wendell Chamber of Commerce.
In the newly approved expansion, Mecury Development is cleared to construct buildings as tall as 14 stories. The tallest buildings in Wendell are currently three stories.
“It will be a tremendous change in the skyline of Wendell,” Piner said.
A challenge ahead is how to balance what Wendell has with what it hopes to become.
“Our slogan for the town is small town charm, capital city connection,” Piner said.
The new development will also include a new elementary school, park space and a road that connects directly to the U.S. Highway 64/264 Bypass.
“I think it's all a plus, because it's a growth spurt,” Life said.
The developer is paying the $30 million cost to construct a seven-lane interchange and parkway into the town.
“This interchange wouldn’t have been built for 15 or 20 years without the investment by Wendell Falls,” said Wally Bowman, division manager for the state Department of Transportation. “There is no other infrastructure project of this magnitude in my (division's) seven counties that was 100 percent privately funded like this."
Construction for the interchange, parkway and residences began in November. Mercury Development expects a spring 2009 opening for Wendell Falls.
Wendell's Town Council still has to approve the project's final plans. The new subdivision and retail areas are scheduled to open next year.