The Chapel Hill Town Council passed a non-binding agreement to continue redeveloping the Chapel Hill Police Department lot in an 8-1 vote during its March 23rd meeting.
As of now, the lot exclusively houses the police station. The town manager’s office, however, recommended a redevelopment that would add in roughly 250 units of affordable housing, access to a nearby fire station, connections to the Bolin Creek Trail, 80,000 square feet of office space and more than 400 parking spaces.
The site would also contain a retaining wall for the Bolin Creek floodplain to reduce runoff.
Although passed, several council members and community members expressed concern about the presence of coal ash on the site, which was found in 2013.
Coal ash can increase risks of health problems for individuals if it is airborne or present in drinking water, including respiratory issues, according to research from environmental consulting firm Hart & Hickman and law firm Poyner Spruill. Studies have also identified the potential risk of developing behavioral issues such as ADHD in children.
Adam Searing, the only council member to vote against the project, said he was concerned about building housing on the site, emphasizing that coal ash has been found to be potentially harmful among children and their health.
“Every child in Chapel Hill deserves the chance to come to school healthy and ready to learn,” he said. “If we decide tonight to let some of our children grow up on giant mounds of hazardous coal ash, that goal becomes far harder to achieve.”
Though efforts have been made in recent years to dig up and cover the ash, the research from Hart & Hickman and Poyner Spruill details how some unexposed areas remain on steep hillsides throughout the lot.
Town officials estimate removing the ash to cost more than $13 million — a process that would take more than three years and 5,000 truck trips to a designated landfill. An excavation process could also risk contaminating nearby Bolin Creek and exposing surrounding areas.