Chapel Hill neighbors worry water, bills will flow downhill

tgrubb@newsobserver.comMarch 18, 2014 

This yard on Tinkerbell Drive east of University Mall flooded during the recent storms. Residents worry they will face consequences from development in the Ephesus-Fordham area.

TAMMY GRUBB — tgrubb@newsobserver.com

  • What’s next?

    The Town Council will meet at 7 p.m. March 24 to talk about using a “form-based code” to guide growth in the Ephesus-Fordham focus area. Form-based code is a type of zoning that sets standards for building size, design and how buildings relate to each other, among other concerns.

    The meeting will be held at the Southern Human Services Center, 2501 Homestead Road in Chapel Hill.

— If experience holds, residents east of University Mall say they have a lot to worry about in redevelopment plans for the Ephesus-Fordham area.

For a long time, they’ve anxiously watched for rising water in heavy rains and, most recently, ice storms, Tinkerbell Road resident Pam Dobson said last week.

It’s gotten worse with new development, which is why neighbors worry when they hear 1,000 new apartments and 600,000 square feet of new commercial space could be built upstream of their homes, she said.

Ephesus-Fordham is one of six small focus areas identified for growth in the town’s 2020 comprehensive plan. The Town Council will talk about plans for the district March 24.

The town and developers might profit from redevelopment, but residents will pay if the growth worsens flooding, Ridgefield Road resident Jean Yarnell said. She’s seen a lot of floods since 1971 and was thankful it didn’t reach the basement this time, she said.

Floodplain rules won’t let her screen-in the back porch, while less than a mile away, the town is making it easier for developers to build tall buildings, she said.

“All such developments have touted their stormwater and road improvements, and yet the water continues to run through my back yard,” she said.

Proposed district

The Ephesus-Fordham plan creates a stormwater district. The town could spend $1.2 million building two wetlands ponds, holding developers responsible for runoff from their own property.

Town staff and Kimley-Horn consultants could present other ideas by March 31.

The town could pay for the work with a bond, development fees and a possible four-cent district tax on every $100 worth of commercial property value, town staff said.

The owner of $2 million worth of property would pay an extra $800 a year in taxes.

Booker Creek runs through the district, flowing under The Shops at Eastgate, past Elliott Road, Fordham Boulevard and Willow Creek to Bolin Creek. South of Estes Drive, Booker and Bolin creeks join Little Creek and an unnamed tributary, before flowing to Jordan Lake.

The 100-year floodplain and wetlands east of Fordham Boulevard channels storm runoff from as far away as downtown, Weaver Dairy Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. It includes several dozen homes and a public housing complex just beyond the Ephesus-Fordham district.

Town staff members have said the districtwide stormwater plan could improve water quality and keep floods from getting worse, but it won’t fix existing problems.

More paved surfaces

Impervious surfaces, such as parking lots and streets, cover about 57 percent of the Ephesus-Fordham district now and could increase by 6 percent to 11 percent, they said. Most of that appears to be from new roads, development southeast of the Ephesus-Fordham intersection and the planned Legion Road affordable housing project.

Topography maps show both areas drain directly or indirectly to the community east of the mall.

Fred Royal, who represents Federal Realty Investment Corp., said he plans to look into how it could affect his client’s Shops at Eastgate property.

After a 2000 flood devastated the shopping center’s merchants, a wetlands basin was proposed for a site behind the shopping center, Royal said

“When we realized the town wasn’t interested, it was sort of dropped,” he said.

The current Eastgate basin, one of the two planned wetland ponds in the Ephesus-Fordham draft plan, appears to be the same plan as before, Royal said. It could help water quality and add green space, but it won’t help with heavy stormwater, he said.

A preliminary assessment last year, for example, did not include the effect of stormwater runoff from 67 acres of additonal redeveloped property, including town-owned land on Legion Road slated for the affordable apartments.

That land slopes down to U.S. 15-501, where Royal said it drains to Rams Plaza and Eastgate or down Fordham Boulevard toward Willow Drive.

‘Necessary to study’

In a June letter, Kimley-Horn consultant Todd St. John told town economic development director Dwight Bassett the planned basins wouldn’t help with heavy runoff. Redevelopment won’t cause much more either, he said.

“Nevertheless, it will be necessary to study the effects of each redevelopment project on the downstream stormwater conveyance systems to reduce the chances of creating localized flooding or erosion issues,” St. John said.

He recommended in another June letter the town replace Elliott Road and Fordham Boulevard culverts to ease future flooding. Combined with new culvert connections – at a total cost of $6 million – the changes could reduce the number of properties now in the floodplain, he said.

Town staff members have not included those suggestions in the draft district plan. St. John could not be reached for comment.

Town stormwater staff directed questions to town spokeswoman Catherine Lazorko. She said the coming plan should answer most questions.

“We may revise the proposed strategy to provide clarity for implementing stormwater treatment requirements, communicating the expected results, and financial impact for the Town,” she said.

 

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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