Gaston & Catawba

Vintage farm could find new life

A 1930s barn that stood in the middle of a controversy over a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter in Hickory 11 years ago could become an upscale grocery store under a new plan by a developer who's done other historic reuse projects.

Pete Zagaroli, who as a teen boarded a show horse at the old Whisnant farm on N.C. 127 North, wants to restore the farm buildings and turn a little more than 20 acres of the property into an upscale mixed-use development.

Zagaroli said he wants to restore all the farm buildings – including the main barn, a smaller breeding barn, a bunk house and silos – then build condos, shops, offices and a restaurant next to them on what is now pasture land and the site of the original Whisnant home place. He said the project would cost more than $20 million.

He envisions a walkable development with a high-end grocery store in the red main barn, shops and offices in the bunk house, and possibly a coffee shop in the breeding barn.

Zagaroli said he would add landscaping to the grounds and that he intends to keep most of the mature trees.

He has a contract to buy the property and plans to apply for a land rezoning for the project this month, allowing for a planned development in what is now a residential zone.

The farm lies in front of the upscale Moore's Ferry development, where many residents opposed a Wal-Mart Supercenter proposed for the site in 1997. The opponents said then that the farm's rustic charm should be maintained, along with the area's mostly residential makeup. Their complaints moved the Hickory City Council to deny the Wal-Mart project.

Vernon Tarlton, a Moore's Ferry resident who owns the farm property along with other partners, said his neighbors have told him they want to see the old barns preserved.

“The land's going to be used for something,” Tarlton said. “That barn gives that whole end of (N.C.) 127 a lot of character. It's a landmark.”