Storm of public comment

If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought town planners had arranged the past couple of days of torrential downpours just to set the stage for Town Council’s discussion of stormwater management rules tonight.

Last fall the town had new wording ready to go in the Land Use Management Ordinance that would comply with new Jordan Lake Nutrient Management Strategy Rules mandated by the state. The rules delineated stormwater management methods to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous entering Jordan Lake. The town had everything in place to enact the new ordinance by August of this year. Then the state General Assembly proposed postponing the deadline for enacting the changes by two years, and the governor agreed. Her and the General Assembly’s rationale was that the new rules would cause hardship to developers who had suffered mightily during the Great Recession of the past few years.

But the Legislature wouldn’t prevent any town from enacting the rules sooner than 2014. Chapel Hill is considering going ahead with the ordinance changes by December of this year. The public hearing tonight will entertain viewpoints for and against moving ahead with the changes faster than the state requires.

A major argument for moving quickly comes in the form of saving the town money. Once the ordinance is passed, the developer is responsible for the cost of installing stormwater management methods and devices to satisfy the ordinance. The town would be responsible for making sure that nitrogen and phosphorous would not enter Jordan Lake beyond what is allowed by the new rules. The longer the town puts off enacting stringent rules, the more developments with insufficient stormwater management, causing higher levels of nutrients the town must prevent from entering Jordan Lake, meaning the town will have to spend more to get the job done. The sooner the town enacts the ordinance, the less nutrient load it must contend with and the less it will cost taxpayers.

Expect beleaguered developers to lobby for putting off the proposed ordinance.

And that’s only one of four public hearings on tonight’s agenda. The hearing to swap out “Comprehensive Plan” references in LUMO with “Chapel Hill 2020” should be fairly straightforward. Likewise, the two hearings connected with replacing a space designated for a drive-thru bank in Meadowmont to allow for a child-development center shouldn’t raise many hackles.

The evening will end with two concept review plans: an expansion for Ephesus Baptist Church and a revised plan for Obey Creek. Public comments will be heard. Expect to make a night of it.
– Nancy Oates

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