IREDELL COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - Within earshot of Interstate 77, on a lot not far from Lake Norman in Iredell County sits a sign in the ground. Weeds and grass have been growing up around it for nearly 18 months. The site, by now, was supposed to be home to a state-of-the-art animal adoption center.
"Our community didn't have a place where animals could go to be saved and to be sheltered and cared for until they could find a forever home," said Maria Roberson. "So, it was our organization's desire to build such a facility."
The organization Roberson was part of was called 'Friends of the Animals.' The grassroots group was launched more than a decade ago. Volunteers wanted to make a dent in the number of animals being put down every year in Iredell and surrounding counties. Nearly 50,000 cats and dogs left in shelters were being killed every year.
"It was just unbearable," said Roberson.
They made progress in reducing the numbers of animals euthanized, but Friends of the Animals wanted to do even more. Up sprang the idea to build a massive new, full-service animal center. It would be a shelter, a spay-neuter clinic and education center. But that was going to take a lot of money.
Luckily they found a big name supporter in former NASCAR Champion Greg Biffle. His personal foundation had been focused on animal welfare for several years. It had dispensed tens of thousands of dollars in grants every year.
"Saved lots of animals and we're very proud of that," said Biffle.
A capital campaign was launched for the Friends of the Animals shelter. Tax records examined by WBTV Investigates shows it was very successful. Between 2011 and 2015 donors stepped up to the tune of $1.4 million. In January 2016, cameras were gathered and ground was broken on a site along Templeton Road in Iredell County. A promise was made to open by the end of 2016.
"But we haven't seen anything," said Lori Schneider.
Schneider and her dog Roxie live in the subdivision across the street from the proposed site.
"Nobody knows what is going to happen, when it's going to happen," said Schneider. " The original timeline has come and gone."
WBTV Investigates also heard from others in the community who were wondering what was going on with the plans and the million plus dollars raised.
"The money is safe," said Roberson. "It is going to the intended purpose."
Land for the center was purchased, but the site has remained virtually untouched. Biffle said it's been frustrating.
"Well, lots of things happened," said Biffle. "We found this piece of land and we said 'Oh, we're done. This is it, we have our plans we are ready to go' and I knew it wasn't going to be that easy, but I didn't know it was going to be that difficult."
Biffle said some of the plans had to be re-done because they were originally drawn up for a site location that fell through. Then, last fall, Friends of the Animals made the decision to merge operations with the Humane Society of Iredell and re-brand itself Lake Norman Humane.
"We wanted to move forward as one group working together," said Roberson. "It takes time to get those legalities worked out."
"If I had to do January 2016 over again, yes, I would say okay we've located a piece of land, now we need to go through a design and engineer a building and we'll get going as soon as we can," said Biffle.
"As soon as we can" looks like it's finally getting closer. Merger details have been worked out and design plans have been tweaked. Clearing on the site, which emails provided by Lake Norman Humane show was approved back in February began at the site this week.
"(We've faced) some hurdles along the way, but now we feel like we've finally gotten to a place where we're ready to start," said Biffle.
No completion date has been set, but Biffle says with his name and a lot of his own money attached to the project he's going to make sure it's done properly.