The largest greenhouse in the United States is about to get even bigger.
The Huntersville Planning Board recently approved the rezoning of about 133 acres on Huntersville Concord Road so Metrolina Greenhouses can move forward with a 1.5 million-square-foot greenhouse expansion.
Art Van Wingerden, president of Metrolina Greenhouses, said the company bought 109 acres from Pace Development, developer of Skybrook North, several months ago. Skybrook North sits adjacent to Metrolina's property.
Thirty-five percent of that land can be used for greenhouses because the property is in a flood plain, said Van Wingerden.
Van Wingerden said he plans to use the new space to create a greenhouse specifically for starter plants.
"Right now we have them in different parts of the greenhouse, but we want all the starter plants in one place," he said. "That's going to make us a lot more efficient."
The Planning Board approved the expansion 8-2.
Board member Hal Bankerir, who lives in the adjacent Skybrook neighborhood, did not think the proposed 30 feet of greenway on the Metrolina Greenhouse property was enough; he wanted it extended to 100 feet, but other board members rejected that idea.
Member Todd Bowland also cast a dissenting vote.
"Most of our discussion was about the visual aspect of it - whether the screening of the complex from the neighborhood was adequate or not," said Planning Board member Barry Hester.
The board also added some conditions to the rezoning request: Metrolina Greenhouses must pay $250 for each of the 54 trees it cut down in the middle of the property.
The company is also not allowed to put a building on the side of the lot that fronts Huntersville Concord Road. On that part of the plot, they're allowed to add only an outdoor planting area.
The Planning Board also stipulated Metrolina Greenhouses needs to let the county and town use their 30-foot-wide easement of greenway along the entire southern portion of the property, said board member Joe Sailers.
The rezoning request will next appear before town commissioners Dec. 20.
With the addition to the existing 150 acres of greenhouse space, Van Wingerden expects a 20 percent increase in plant production.
A family-owned wholesale plant and services company since 1972, Metrolina Greenhouses ships to Lowe's, Sam's Club and Wal-Mart. During its peak season of March through June, the company ships more than 100 tractor-trailer loads of product per day, according to its website.
Van Wingerden said the expansion is justified since the greenhouse market has remained immune to the current economic climate.
"We manage to the business we have," he said. "We build to get better."
Van Wingerden said that depending on market conditions, the company will probably finish grading the newly acquired land by late 2011 and start building as early as 2012.