Published: Jan 19, 2013 07:00 PM
Modified: Jan 19, 2013 05:06 PM
CHAPEL HILL - Residents can learn more and have a say Tuesday in how Chapel Hill protects its waterways and limits erosion and property damage from floods.
The town’s Stormwater Advisory Board is holding the second of two public meetings to gather suggestions about how the town can simplify local stream-buffer rules in its land-use management ordinance and Resource Conservation District. The first meeting was held in December.
Michele Drostin, with the UNC Institute for the Environment, will lead a panel of experts in the community discussion. Speakers will include Michael Paul, a Tetratech senior scientist specializing in water-quality protection, and Deanna Osmond, an N.C. State University soil science professor and extension leader focused on conservation.
The Stormwater Advisory Board is considering changes to recommend when the Town Council considers whether to align local stream buffers with regional Jordan Lake rules that establish 50-foot buffers for all but ephemeral streams. Those streams fill up only when it rains.
Chapel Hill stream buffers are now protected under a 30-year jumble of regulations included in the town’s Resource Conservation District and land-use management ordinance.
In general, the RCD doesn’t allow new structures or fencing in stream buffers – ranging from 50 to 150 feet – and limits the expansion of existing structures.
What’s allowed also depends on when a structure was built and, if the land is undeveloped, whether the Board of Adjustment will allow a variance.
The process can be confusing and expensive for developers, the town and residents. The Jordan Lake rules would simplify decisions and protect streams, town staff said.
But the Planning Board and local water quality advocates identified several issues with the plan, including the environmental effects of smaller buffers, the possibility of flooding and how to protect ephemeral streams. The Planning Board recommends keeping perennial, or year-round, stream buffers at 100 feet.
Water-quality advocates said they understand the rules should be easier to implement, but they also want officials to consider the science behind buffers. The environmental and quality of life damage will be more expensive to fix in the long run, they said.
Betsy Kempter, with Friends of Bolin Creek, said at least 90 feet is necessary to filter nutrients that damage water quality, preserve biodiversity and reduce the effects of noise on habitats.
Drostin said wider buffers also protects homeowners by slowing down runoff, especially from pavement and upstream construction projects, that can flood property and erode stream banks.
“I’ve always been in a position of people calling to say my yard is flooded or my stream is eroded,” Drostin said. “I’m going and looking at these pieces of property and knowing these people are out of luck.”