Previous floods have left comparable damage. In July 2000, October 2008, June 2013 and December 2015, floods affected 60, 21, 72 and 20 units, respectively.
Barry McLamb, Chapel Hill emergency management coordinator, said Camelot Village is among multiple locations in Chapel Hill that are more susceptible to heavy flooding.
“There are several areas at the lower topography of Chapel Hill that become problematic, due to the fact that there is very little topography change as the creeks ‘bottom out’ before merging into the Jordan (Lake) watershed,” he said.
John Chase has lived in Camelot Village for more than two years. He lives in one of the four buildings set directly in the path of the floodway and thus more likely to be affected during heavy rainfall.
“It’s been a disaster and a nightmare,” Chase said. “I’ve got this nice apartment in a great location and the rent is OK, but I’ve been flooded twice in two years. I’m trapped.”
Residents living in the second-floor units haven’t experienced direct damage but have witnessed repairs, including Camelot Village resident Mary Vest.
“It did quite a bit of damage,” Vest said. “I’ve seen them working on the lower apartments and tearing things out.”
McLamb said in circumstances of increased risk, such as Hurricane Matthew, specially-trained water rescue crews from the fire department are on duty and the streambeds are maintained by the Chapel Hill Public Works Stormwater Management Division.
In previous years, the town of Chapel Hill and various homeowners have reached out to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a possible solution.
In order to qualify for FEMA funding, a state is required to create a flood mitigation plan, which identifies communities that have been subject to repetitive flooding, and submit it for review.
In the case that funds are available, community meetings are held to discuss a potential buyout. FEMA does not buy out property directly — instead, local and state governments enact voluntary buyout initiatives with help from FEMA grants.
The lengthy process carries stipulations that make its completion difficult. Every unit owner in a building must agree to participate in the buyout. No homeowners are required to move or sell their property, and the government cannot use eminent domain to seize the land.
Buyout initiatives for Camelot Village have been enacted twice in Chapel Hill, in 2005 and 2013, but have been unsuccessful, according to McLamb.
“We have attempted FEMA buyouts at Camelot Village on two previous occasions and are currently working with the (Homeowners’ Association) and property management on a third,” McLamb said. “In the past, we haven’t been able to get sufficient participation from owners but we’re hoping a different strategy this year might help us get at least one building bought out.”
A buyout could mean many current residents are left without affordable housing. The units range in cost from $575 to $650 per month, which is cheaper than the average $772 rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Chapel Hill.
“I’m between a rock and a hard place because it would be very difficult for me to move,” Chase said. “It’s hard to find a place to live.”
The town has also looked into engineering solutions, but high costs and tightly-regulated guidelines make this almost impossible.
“We have three certified flood plain managers on the town staff at public works, and all agree that there is no effective engineering solution available for the problems we face in Chapel Hill,” McLamb said.
Duvall said the location of Camelot Village, coupled with government regulations, make a solution unclear. He said he is doing everything he can to make sure the effects of flooding are reduced.
“We’re in a flood plain,” he said. “There’s not much you can do to change that.”
Chase said he believes political motivations have prevented real change from happening.
“I think it’s politics. People don’t want to do anything unless it pays off for them,” Chase said. “They don’t want to spend money to do a good work. It sounds cynical, but I don’t know another explanation.”
If a FEMA buyout does take place, it could be years. Until then, several Camelot Village residents continue to deal with the daily costs of living on a flood plain.
“It’s affected every aspect of my life, in every negative way,” Chase said.