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Proposal looks to extend water, sewer boundary in southern Chapel Hill

The OWASA building in Carrboro pictured on Friday, Aug. 19, 2022.

The Town of Chapel Hill is considering a proposal to extend its water and sewer boundary, which would allow for the expansion of housing and transit along U.S. Highway 15-501 in southern Chapel Hill.

If approved, the proposal, a part of the new Complete Community Strategy, would widen Chapel Hill's water and sewer services to the Chatham County line.

Chapel Hill Town Council member Amy Ryan said the Town owns a 10-acre parcel of land in southern Chapel Hill that could be donated to an affordable housing project if the Urban Services Boundary is extended.

The rest of the land in the proposed extension area could become available for developing "missing middle" housing. Missing middle housing is a type of housing that falls between single-family homes and large apartment complexes. Duplexes, triplexes, townhouses and small apartments fall under this category.

"Generally, if you're building smaller units on less land, they cost less," Ryan said.

She also said new development in the area could extend the Town's future North-South Bus Rapid Transit project. The project will create an 8.2-mile route from Eubanks Road to Southern Village that will help provide more frequent buses and more efficient services. 

Ryan said potentially extending N-S BRT services to the southern part of Chapel Hill would allow residents to get around Chapel Hill without a car.

In an announcement, Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said the Town sees the proposal as an "opportunity for creating transit-supported middle housing in the southern part of Chapel Hill."

Before the proposed changes can take place, the Orange County Board of County Commissioners, Hillsborough Board of Commissioners, Carrboro Town Council, the Orange Water and Sewer Authority Board of Directors and the Chapel Hill Town Council must each vote independently to approve the plans since this extension would modify the Water and Sewer Management, Planning and Boundary Agreement, which was signed in December 2001.

This agreement was created to provide comprehensive services to residents across the county and define service boundaries for each entity. 

After the Chapel Hill Town Council makes a decision about moving forward with the plan, it will then be proposed to the other municipalities for approval. A clear timeframe for the implementation of this proposal will not be available until all parties agree to the extension of services. 

Ruth Rouse, the planning and development manager for Orange Water and Sewer Authority, said OWASA will be responsible for extending services once a decision is made. 

The extension of water and sewer services would occur at no cost to town residents, but homeowners living outside of the water and sewer boundary would have to pay to connect to the services. Homeowners in the extension area would not be obligated to connect to the services.

“We also have a policy where the benefitting party has to pay," Rouse said. "So they're extending services for new development, that new development has to pay that cost to extend that service."

Hemminger said some individuals living outside of the current Urban Services Boundary have experienced poor water quality and would like to be able to receive water and sewer services.

“I personally know that being connected to water and sewer is also better for the environment because septic tanks aren't monitored or regulated, and we have no idea if any of them are leaking," Hemminger said.

She said she is aware of concerns about OWASA's system capacity if services are extended in the proposed area. She said OWASA has the water capacity to handle new development, but it would have to enlarge pipes around the boundary area.

According to the Town, the proposal would not disturb the rural buffer around Chapel Hill.

Ryan explained that the buffer is an area surrounding Chapel Hill that was designed to prevent sprawl and keep development within Town boundaries.

“For me, at least, protecting the integrity of that rural buffer is really important and I'm glad that this proposal doesn't pierce that," Ryan said.

Following a virtual public information meeting held on Sept. 25, Town staff working on this project will conduct more research before submitting a proposal to the Chapel Hill Town Council, who will then vote on it. No official date has been set for that vote. 

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