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The Daily Tar Heel

Is the Blue Hill District prone to flooding?

Concerns about stormwater runoff and flooding in the Blue Hill District continue to be voiced as the area expands with new developments. 

The Blue Hill District, formerly known as the Ephesus-Fordham District, covers around 180 acres of land between South Elliott Road, East Franklin Street, Fordham Boulevard and Ephesus Church Road. 

The newly branded district endeavors to provide livability with dining and shopping amenities. 

But Tom Henkel, founder of the Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town, and Julie McClintock, vice chair of the Chapel Hill Stormwater Management Utility Advisory Board, disagree with the area’s new philosophy. 

A form-based code — a  regulation streamlining development proposals to the town manager — was adopted in 2014 for the Blue Hill District to help incentivize developers to invest in the area. 

The Chapel Hill Town Council does not vote on or review any projects in the district due to the regulation.

McClintock said the form-based code was originally adopted to “benefit the community,” but hasn’t lived up to its expectations. She said a group of citizens, including herself, went to the town council and proposed more than dozens of ideas to change aspects of the form-based code but none were approved. 

“But the one message that got through was that we kept saying, ‘It’s a really low-lying area. There’s going to be some problems here,’” McClintock said. “And finally, people began to see that what we’re doing here is we’re establishing a lot of incentives to encourage economic growth in this area, but it’s at the bottom of a watershed.”

In an interview with The Daily Tar Heel on Aug. 29, Economic Development Officer Dwight Bassett said there is no resolution to the stormwater-related issues in the Blue Hill District, but that there are strong controls in place. 

“When anyone disturbs dirt and reaches a certain point, they have to improve the stormwater system for their property and it’s a good system,” he said. 

The root cause of the issue is that there have been decades of building upstream without stormwater controls put in place around the area, Bassett said.

“It’s my understanding that it wasn’t here but it’s also my understanding that when this was first built it didn’t flood,” he said. “That over time because we’ve created so much impervious surface in those neighborhoods upstream that it creates more flow into the district.”

Ram Realty Services, a developer in Blue Hill District, purchased the 68,000-square-foot Village Plaza South shopping center and proposed a three-phase project. 

The last phase asks to demolish the Days Inn Chapel Hill hotel off Fordham Boulevard and build around 270 dwelling units, according to its latest permit application. Along with the permit application, Ballentine Associates on behalf of Ram Realty Advisers submitted a stormwater management plan.

The property Ram Realty plans to build on is within a floodplain and partly lies within the regulatory floodway and Jordan Watershed Riparian buffer.

According to the stormwater analysis, it states the site’s design will follow post and pre-developed stormwater conditions up to 100 years. The plan states that the 100-year condition is not legally required.

McClintock said the infrastructure that controls and collects water will be built next to the property to help mitigate stormwater runoff.

Henkel and McClintock argue stormwater runoff and flooding will worsen as more developments are built in the area, with the form-based code fueling the fire.


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