Dry reading worth wading into

Have you read the Lower Booker Creek Subwatershed Study Report? Nancy Oates The tome is the type of reading you do only when the roads are iced over and you can’t leave your house for three days. But it contains critically important information that could save our town from washing away downstream.

Stormwater management experts give this advice on dealing with water: slow it down, spread it out, soak it up. That becomes increasingly difficult as the impervious surfaces of parking lots and rooftops limit the soil, vegetation and trees that soak it up. Climate change has wrought rainstorms of greater intensity that erode meandering stream banks into straight channels that rush water downstream faster. Water will spread out of its own accord. When that happens in developed areas, we call it flooding.

All of that runoff eventually makes its way to Jordan Lake, the drinking water supply for some towns in Wake and Chatham counties and, as development continues, perhaps to Chapel Hill in the future. Towns that feed Jordan Lake, as Chapel Hill does, bear the responsibility of cleaning up impurities before they get to the lake. If we don’t prevent sediment and toxins from washing into the lake now, removing them later becomes even more expensive.

Town Council, at its Jan. 18 meeting, adopted the subwatershed report, but did not go so far as to incorporate it into the town’s Comprehensive Plan from which council decides its goals. George Cianciolo led the charge to keep it out, because proceeding with the first five prioritized projects might require the town to purchase land for designated areas where water could spread out, and that would cost money.

The Comprehensive Plan lays out focus areas for future development, which also could require the town to purchase land for road construction, and I don’t see how that differs from purchasing land for stormwater management. Nevertheless, I joined the rest of council in voting for Cianciolo’s amended resolution in order to allow the town manager to begin work right away on the first five projects.

In our vote, we also agreed to explore a public/private partnership to repair Lake Ellen. Last month, a broken pipe drained the manmade lake and allowed the water to empty into Eastwood Lake, which had the capacity for it. But fixing the problem and bringing the lake up to current codes would be considerably more expensive than the Lake Ellen Homeowners Association had planned.

Because the lake is both an amenity to the homeowners living around it and serves a valuable stormwater management function for the town, it would benefit both parties to share the cost of restoring the lake to its original use.

Not everyone was happy with our vote. RAM Development wants to build hundreds of apartments on the Days Inn site in the Ephesus-Fordham district. The ground closest to the creek serves as a rainwater collector area, but RAM had planned to backfill it and build on top of it. RAM had not told the mayor or town manager of its plans and had already put in a year’s worth of planning time and effort.

Adding the stormwater report to the Comprehensive Plan might prevent another developer from that frustration.
— Nancy Oates

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  1. Growing up in North Forest Hills, Lake Ellen was a wonderful place. Tried to fish there, lots of canoeing, and once or twice it even froze over enough to venture out like in the movies! Was on her banks that I had my only losing fight (had my only win in another with same boy but in a friend’s driveway). Live on the other side of town now, but fully support your efforts to restore that quiet little pond. Thank you.

  2. George C

     /  January 31, 2017


    I thought I made it clear in our discussion the other day, when you asked me in private to clarify my position, that the reason I did not want the Lower Booker Creek Subwatershed Study Report incorporated into the Comprehensive Plan was that I felt that this study was not actually any sort of a plan. It does not incorporate many of the requirements of a plan: it did not indicate what the costs would be, who was responsible for what, what the timelines might be, and what the expected deliverables would be. Putting something into the Comprehensive Plan before we have any clarity on what the expectations are, is premature and misleads the citizens. I fully and publicly supported the study and asked the staff to use that study to come back to Council with an actual plan which could be then incorporated into the Comprehensive Plan. It’s time we stopped calling visions, plans, and my hope in planning our recent retreat was that Council would acquire additional skills to become better in strategic planning in order to give clarity to our constituents as to what visions in our various “plans” might actually be implemented.

  3. Sally Greene

     /  January 31, 2017

    Nancy, in following up on George’s point and ultimately supporting it, I would not have done so had not I heard the manager say that, whether we put it in the Comprehensive Plan now or not, he would give it the same (high) priority. If he had said that it would have more priority if it were in the Comprehensive Plan than if it were not, then I would have supported putting it in.

  4. plurimus

     /  January 31, 2017

    George C. Excellent point. What you describe we would term as a “plan for a plan”. I am confused however; is the land in question is in a flood plain? If not why not?

  5. George, you have personally championed a huge slew of balderdash incorporated in the current “comprehensive plan” (which under your CH2020 and subsequent “leadership” no longer comprehensive or a plan).

    It’s astonishing that you make this claim.

  6. George C

     /  January 31, 2017

    I never endorsed turning the Chapel Hill 2020 visioning exercise into our comprehensive plan. When Rosemary Waldorf and I presented the report of Chapel Hill 2020 to the then Council, we specifically noted that Chapel Hill 2020 was a set of visions and that it would be critical to determine how to implement those visions. I have consistently resisted calling it a Comprehensive Plan specifically because it is so vague on the critical elements that might be necessary to implement those visions.

  7. Nancy

     /  January 31, 2017

    Sally, that’s why I voted for George’s amended resolutions, too: The town manager assured us he would be able to start work on this right away, regardless of whether it was part of the Comprehensive Plan. I think it would have sent a stronger message to developers that council takes stormwater issues quite seriously if it were part of the Comprehensive Plan. But I, too, wanted the town manager to begin work on the priority areas.

    George, in our conversation and publicly you said you didn’t see the study as a plan. But if you look at the Comprehensive Plan, it doesn’t have a lot of specifics, either. So I would have been comfortable incorporating the study into the Comprehensive Plan as a way to underscore council’s intent to take stormwater issues seriously. The retreat was helpful in unifying us that a vision is different from a strategic plan.

  8. Del Snow

     /  February 6, 2017

    “Chapel Hill 2020 is the community’s comprehensive plan that sets a vision and a path for Chapel Hill’s future”

    From the Town of Chapel Hill website. By deep-sixing all of the action items, 2020 offers no specificity at all.