751 South urban growth area boundary up for review at City Council meeting tonight
BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for January 4, 2010

Durham City Council supports urban growth area move by 5-2 vote in preview of 751 South debates to come

Tonight's City Council meeting wasn't a vote on the 751 South project. By some folks' arguments, it shouldn't have even been a vote about the Urban Growth Area (UGA) boundary on the project's merits at all, between a 2006 controversial Frank Duke memo and a 2007 vote by Council supporting low density development on the site.

Still, it offered one of the better proxies on where Council members may be inclined to stand (or not) on the matter.

Mike Woodard and Diane Catotti, longstanding critics of the 751S process to date, showed the skepticism we've seen from them throughout the project. Howard Clement seemed as supportive as he's been reported to be in recent public discussions; Eugene Brown's comments, meanwhile, were neutral on the surface yet seemed sympathetic at times to the development team's arguments.

Farad Ali and Cora Cole-McFadden? Both asked questions, but neither seemed willing to show their cards at this point.

Same with Mayor Bell, who seemed in his brief comments to narrow the question just to the UGA, regardless of future water and sewer extension opportunities. (Planning director Steve Medlin did say that he recommended moving the UGA, based just on the factors surrounding the urban growth boundary.)

Saying that the merits or demerits of the project were best left for another day, Bell called for supporting that narrow staff recommendation. "At this point in time, what's before this Council ... it's [staff's] recommendation that we change the Urban Growth Boundary... that'd be my vote on this particular issue."

Making tonight's 5-2 vote just about the UGA. Except, of course, that it's never only about the UGA.

Settle in, folks. There's lots more hearings like this one to come.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Much of the discussion tonight turned on the legal morass long surrounding the project, including a controversial memo from Durham's former planning director.

Lewis Cheek -- a former County Commissioner who left office just as the 751 South matter was coming to a head in fall 2008, and who then joined the law firm representing the 751S project team -- argued to Council members that the rulings by former planning director Frank Duke had already established the property as being within the Urban Growth Area (UGA) boundary, and that as planning is a city and county joint function, the die was already veritably cast.

The question of whether Duke's action in January 2006 affected the UGA and not simply the watershed area raised a curious eye from City Councilman Mike Woodard, who asked city attorney Patrick Baker to clarify whether the urban growth area was impacted.

Baker noted that Duke's administrative memo did state that the boundary would move as a result of a developer-provided survey, but Woodard asked whether Duke had the authority to change boundaries like the UGA. Duke successor Steve Medlin said that a number of tier and boundary decisions did sit in the planning director's hands administratively, rattling off a list that included just about everything -- well, everything but the UGA.

"But I didn't hear UGA?" Woodard asked? "You did not," Medlin noted, with a wry smile. Baker added that the city attorney's office didn't believe that Duke had the authority to move the UGA line -- though he added that in some cases, some of the tiers for which the planning director has authority to change are considered essentially 'upstream' of the UGA, making it a seemingly fuzzy area.

"The lines, as I understand it, tend to mirror each other" but there's no requirement they be the same, Baker noted.

Still, the Judge Manning decision does call Frank Duke's memo accurate and binding "in all respect" on the county, with Baker saying that a literal reading of Manning's finding would include the UGA extension being binding on the county as of that 2006 document.

Regardless, Baker noted, it would be somewhat "problematic" for the city in terms of consistency if a 2007 decision by Council that the area was within the UGA for a low-density development was now transformed into a vote that the area was not within the growth area -- adding that decisions on how dense the zoning should be and whether utilities should be extended are and should be separate questions, Baker counseled. 

"Even if it's within the UGA, there's no requirement that you extend water and sewer to the project," Baker noted.

Baker also said that it might be up to a court to decide whether the Frank Duke decision was really binding on the city or simply the county.

After Woodard's back-and-forth with Medlin and Baker, Mayor Bell called a five-minute limit on further Council questioning, which served in large part to give Council members a chance to signal where they stand on the 751 South matter.

Diane Catotti expressed her wish to see the item deferred, noting she was "not happy" with Duke's action on administratively changing the boundary and wishing to see further improvements to the UDO -- then using more of her time to ask Melissa Rooney to share additional photos of what she described as persistent flooding along Stagecoach Rd. and other areas bounding the manmade Jordan Lake.

(Catotti invited Council colleagues to walk trails with her near the lake to see the subject area for themselves.)

Eugene Brown had his own didactic back-and-forth questions to City staff on the project, on matters from Frank Duke's actions to infrastructure cost responsibilities.

And just as Woodard's questions were facially-neutral-yet-subtly-critical in their nature, Brown's questions -- including additional seeming friendly questions asked by Brown of site design consultant Dan Jewell -- seemed to suggest Brown may be favorable on proponents' arguments.

Howard Clement, meanwhile, noted explicitly that he "supports" the boundaries moved, "so that we can really get to the real issues that impact this community -- jobs, and increased tax revenue."

Cora Cole-McFadden, meanwhile, asked only one question on a detailed point she thought one opponent made in a PowerPoint, alluding in the process to whether the City might face a lawsuit over the case -- then quickly backed away from the question, noting she'd review the matter sent her in email.

Farad Ali, for his part, noted he was "weighing this environmentally and economically," suggesting that he at least may not have his mind made up yet. He asked for clarification on Rooney's reports of flooding on Stagecoach Rd., and got a response from City staff that any such flooding appeared to be entirely on Army Corps of Engineers land, not impacting the development or sitting on the UGA addition area.

Before the vote, Woodard made one more plea to hold the line on the UGA, saying that he wanted to see the outcome of the BOCC's lawsuit (which could, he noted, lead to a much smaller project -- and adding that he wanted to understand the full cost/benefit analysis of annexation and utility extension before taking a vote.

"There are too many unknowns at this juncture to move forward," Woodard warned, though his perspective matched only his and Diane Catotti's perspectives.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Council vote came after a long line of speakers presenting arguments for and against the project.

And legal arguments aside, project proponents largely attempted to turn the environmental worries on their ear, arguing instead that the dense community would be greener than undeveloped land due to on-site nutrient mitigation; they also stressed the economic impact of the project.

Craigie Sanders, another attorney for the applicant, stressed that 100,000 new residents would be moving to Durham County in the next two decades according to state data, and claimed that the project would be a way to provide housing and employment sites for some of that number. Meanwhile, Durham activists like Thelma White and Mel Whitley argued that the jobs and tax revenue created by the project would stem the impact of unemployment.

Project consultant Dan Jewell stressed the project's agreement to meet new stormwater quality standards for Jordan Lake, which he noted were measured in pounds of runoff per year and which made no adjustment for density -- meaning, he argued, that a dense development would have to do much more aggressive work to meet these targets than would low-density residential.

"Anyone who disturbs more than a half or an acre, depending on the use, must abide by these rules. Nothing previously developed in southern Durham meets these new requirements. The assumption by the state is that all prior development-related runoff is contributing to the degradation of Jordan Lake; therefore, this project, and every project in the city's jurisdiction from this point forward, will at a minimum be nutrient neutral relative to water and runoff quality," Jewell said.

He added that the three local wastewater treatment plants discharging into the Upper New Hope presented more than 600,000 pounds of nitrogen to the lake, while the 751 South development as a whole would be limited to less than 370 pounds of nitrogen off-flow at full build-out; he claimed that if used as agricultural land, the site would set forth more nutrients than it would if it was developed as proposed.

Meanwhile, downtown-area developer Bob Chapman, whose works include the Trinity Heights residences and actions around the Geer/Foster district downtown, praised 751 South as a model for successful new urbanist communities. 

Opponents of the project focused on water quality and the location of a very dense project in stating their concerns over any UGA extension.

"Increasingly we're drinking the water that comes off paved surfaces," said Duke assistant professor of biology Will Wilson. "With those paved surfaces come pollutants," he added, warning about the impact of adding additional population on water quality. 

Wilson went on to draw an analogy to the riparian buffers debate, claiming that the science and arguments on that recent decision in Durham -- which impacted the distance that development has to keep away from streams -- was an example of bad science guiding public policy decisions. 

Longtime 751S opponent Melissa Rooney reminded the Council that the Chancellor's Ridge neighborhood adjacent to the project is appealing the county's rejection of a protest petition over the vote, a petition negated after the site owners transferred a strip of the project site to NCDOT for a road widening in a controversial maneuver before the August 2010 BOCC vote.

Rooney added her own scientific doubts over the data presented by project proponents, and reminded Mayor Bill Bell and Council members of Bell's decade-old statement arguing that he wanted south Durham to maintain its rural character.

Rebecca Board argued that dense development at the edge of Jordan Lake -- "as far south of the city center as you can get without leaving Durham County" -- didn't match with transit corridor and growth area planning, and "flies in the face of the wise growth we've been enjoying."

Board also noted her concern that the development would seem to be most attractive to new residents living in other areas, over the needs and past wishes of long-term residents for less-dense development at the suburban tier versus redevelopment and density near downtown. 

Tina Motley-Pearson added her concerns that the survey methodology used by a private surveyors to re-measure the edge of Jordan Lake didn't match best practices or the findings of the Haw River Association's own private survey by a different method, and warned that "it is not appropriate to make this area suburban," saying the site is simply too close to the lake to make the development appropriate.

And Motley-Pearson turned the concept of "activists" on its head, saying that term better fitted developers who were themselves, as she put it, working to change the established community zoning for an area.



Thanks for the recap BCR! I'll just say, "Ugggghh!!!"

There are facts...there is ideology...there are contradictions.

The developer presented some interesting facts but that is if they follow through with the development as currently plan and don't end up developing an Auto Park (i.e. Johnson Lexus...for example purposes).

Some of the ideology ignores the facts of the proposed green features of the development in the name of NIMBYism. The alternatives (largely suburban style development) are worse than the proposed development. We have to forgive those who thought that South Durham would remain rural 10 years ago. The Southpointe area is convient to too many employment centers within the Triangle.

Those 100k people that will move to Durham Co. will not all be in the urban or transit-oriented areas unfortunately. Those areas have their own set of NIMBYs that would prevent that from happening anyway.

More effort should be towards making sure our code consistently creates economically and environmentally viable developments instead of having these entrenched battles for every rezoning. Developers should be prepared with plans that improve the neighborhood and environment around them.

Developers don't leave too many positive legacies any more that people will want to remember for years to come. Its typical industrial era...churn out as many replicas as possible for the maximum profit. Can you make money with quality any more? Will people pay for quality or pass it for Targe'?

Will Wilson

Seriously: A "landscape designer" stated that a development with, what, 60, 70% impervious surface, is more environmentally sensitive than a 100% forested area? Does anyone really believe that statement? It baffles me that a majority of Durham's elected leaders seems to believe this stuff!


A boundary is not a boundary when you move the line every couple years. It is as useless as are the five who voted to move the line.

No one should vote for Bell, Cora, Eugene, Clement, or Ali. Their votes are allowing this area to escalate its problems instead of solve and prevent them.


"Seriously: A "landscape designer" stated that a development with, what, 60, 70% impervious surface, is more environmentally sensitive than a 100% forested area? Does anyone really believe that statement? It baffles me that a majority of Durham's elected leaders seems to believe this stuff!"

Well, that really is a good question. No one bothered to ask the developers how their design would reduce effluents greater than leaving the land alone. As an engineer myself, I can believe this is possible. Certainly the project can be more environmentally sustainable with regards to surface runoff, then say, Chancellor's Ridge, where much of the opposition comes from. I mean, it's only just across the road, and has no better engineering than any other suburban sprawl neighborhood. Other than the 751 road and a 50-foot buffer, Chancellor's Ridge is an example of how NOT to do things if you really believe what you preach.

oops we did it again

a UGA should be like dropping a meat cleaver, a decisive hard and fast line.

city this way, country that way.

preserve both in a healthy and visually attractive way that is clearly defined. Don't do this and you get mush. Fugly mush for the most part; the city doesn't have enough density to really work, and the countryside disappears in an ever repeating pattern of ugly costly sprawl which will be replaced by decay in 2-4 decades.

The fact that we can't get past this problem makes one wonder if humans are really the smartest species on the planet.

Will Wilson

GreenLantern: I'd love to see your data. Atmospheric N deposition is about 10 lbs/acre/year, and data I've seen for SE forests is an export of about 0.1 lbs/acre/year. Life cherishes N. Even if the development got 2.2 lbs/acre/year, it's an order of magnitude more than forests. This N discussion disregards all of the emerging pollutants for urban areas.


@ Will - How could anyone not believe everything the development team says? Their credibility is impeccable at this point.


It's pretty sad the council couldn't wait for the legal outcomes. Howard Clement's comments focusing solely on Jobs & Tax Revenue represent a complete lack of understanding for the big issues facing not just our community but country and planet. Why not develop a coal fired power generator instead? More long term jobs and more tax revenue using your logic...

Durham needs density, NC needs Density, USA needs Density - we need to have a viable mass-transit system, reduce development encroachment and suburban sprawl... With 751, you get far more than just Nitrogen pollution.

Downtown Durham needs far more attention then it has received. How about focusing on real economic development opportunities that would continue to revitalize the core, leverage existing infrastructure and transportation, bring access to jobs for all income levels, encourage downtown living which supports a vibrant economy and lowers environmental impacts, etc etc etc. Just take the time to walk in any direction for the City offices and I'm sure a good opportunity will be found within 1 mile. Let's get a developer in downtown who can actually complete projects, bring Class A & Class B office space and attract larger employers to our fine city.

This is where the work should be getting done, not ripping up trees and putting precious ecosystems at risk.

Council Members Woodard and Catotti - Thank you! Please consider my thoughts on Downtown - that is where the action is. If we get that addressed, we'll have far more economic development, tax revenue increases, crime reduction, etc.. then any suburban project will ever achieve.


Ok ok...fight the developer if you want but guess what...you keep fight the developers and you won't have a developer to fight eventually. We need developers to not always go through hell just to build. It's not cool. If I were a developer, I'd go to Raleigh by the mere fact that it's always hard to build in Durham. People probably fought against Research Triangle Park, citing environmental concerns. However, without the park, we still probably have the tobacco factories dominating Durham and creating more pollution. STOP FIGHTING DEVELOPMENT! DURHAM IS NOT A VILLAGE BUT A CITY! CITIES HAVE OUTSKIRTS! GET USED TO IT!


@ Lamb. Not all cities have outskirts. Lexington, KY for example has a UGA that IS a meat cleaver. On one side of the line, city. On the other, farm land. As a result land in the city is much more densely developed and much more valuable than it is here, where you can just go a little further out and develop more sprawl.


I think the UGA concept would be much more effective if we had regional planning that ensured that such a boundary wouldn't just push development to the other side of the county line. Take Orange County, for instance. They have a fairly rigid urban growth boundary, and as far as I can tell the main impact is to protect some areas as rural that are relatively close to the job center (UNC) while pushing development several miles away into Chatham County. That sort of leapfrogging is counter productive yet inevitable under such systems.

Kevin Davis

@Dan - Interesting point. Ihave similar reservations over the constant pressure to keep Duke Forest undeveloped to prevent sprawl, when the forest is immediately adjacent to a major job center and when the result is thousands of people driving in from Orange, Alamance, Person, Wake and even Johnston Co. for work instead. So... we prevent local-sprawl and end up with distant-sprawl.

Some of that is unavoidable; there are people who prefer to live in places like Bahama or Roxboro or Mebane and do the drive each day, though I cannot help but think that rising gas prices will lead many to kvetch and wail over how the gummint is not doing enough to ensure cheap petrol.

Bullicious raises a good point about increasing property values in the core city by limiting sprawl, which is a good thing. In the long run, on the other hand, you do have to be cautious about not pricing out lower-income and workforce housing. Ironically, those rising gas prices and the pains felt in suburban/exurban areas plus rising preferences for cities could end up leading to a swap over the long run, with more low-income residents priced out of cities for suburbs, and isolated in edge communities with poor workforce options.

None of this, mind you, is a statement specifically geared towards 751S per se. To me, the big play increasingly is what happens with a denser RTP -- and what the reactions are when the Foundation proposes, as I suspect they will, an urban center that would probably be much bigger than 751 South in the heart of the Park.

oops we did it again


your use of ALL CAPS is more successful than your logic.

Instead of cowtowing to what developers want to do as your argument implies, all that is needed is for developers to take direction from city/county/regional planners over where/how to develop.

This would result in developing WITH A PLAN. Dog wagging the tail instead of vice versa.

If developers don't bring forth planning developments that fit within the guided framework that is their problem and they should expect friction and difficulty.

City and county planners could no doubt make it easier/more clearly visible by laying out a specific overview/plan of what they want -- AND STICKING TO IT.

Steve Bocckino

It makes no sense whatsoever to spend years and thousands of dollars developing comprehensive plans if they're going to be disregarded at the drop of a hat.

I worked on the 2005 plan, one of a steering group of planners, politicians, a home builder, a commercial developer, and an environmentalist, with massive input from professional staff. It was a consensus document—if a single member of the steering committee objected to a policy, it wasn't incorporated into the final plan. In 2010 alone there were 11 amendments to the plan submitted, about average. Almost all pass, so there have been close to 50 changes to our so-called comprehensive plan in the past 5 years.

That isn't planning, it's chaos. Developers initiated virtually all of those changes. If they would take the time to read our plan, and submit projects congruent with it, they wouldn't have problems with their rezonings. The major development battles have been over projects (Southpoint, 751 South) that flagrantly disregard the plans. Ordinary folks make decisions about where to live based on our plans, and they get upset when the rules are changed arbitrarily.

The aggregate value of these ordinary residents' investments is far greater than the profit derived by the developers, and yet certain politicians (five of them on Monday night) disregard their interests. You can call it what you will, but it's definitely not planning.


I don't understand why people look at the 751 development as "at the fringes" type of suburban sprawl, far away from Durham's core, analogous to Zebulon's distance from the center of Raleigh. These are clearly not the same things. Durham is a very small county with a big city relative to its county boundary, which makes most new development on the fringes anyway you slice it.

What people fail to, or refuse to, notice is that South Durham is really a central hub of employment and development between Durham core, Chapel Hill/Carrboro, RTP, Morrisville, NW Cary, and NE Chatham. Southpoint, for example, is in the perfect location for dense development projects like 751 to be encouraged on a regional basis, not just for the benefit of one city, or for folks who want to force people to live downtown.

I find it amazing that the hypocrites who already live next to 751 in typical suburban sprawl developments, complain about this project, but have no intention of moving to Durham's core, or razing their homes and tearing up their streets to return them to their natural state. What I really think is happening is a lot of residents who already enjoy the semi-rural lifestyle that close to shopping and employment, want to keep the supply of land down and prices of existing homes up. I don't blame them in this real estate market, but they should at least get their stories straight.


"Instead of cow-towing to what developers want to do as your argument implies, all that is needed is for developers to take direction from city/county/regional planners over where/how to develop."

If the city/county plans are unreasonable or contradictory, having been established long ago trying to predict future growth trends, then it's the job of the elected leaders to make exceptions. Each side has a chance to make their arguments, but if their positions are not strong or reasonable enough, then they have to be flexible even if a comprehensive plan had been adopted years ago by a diverse committee of stakeholders. The developers seem to be doing everything possible to alleviate the concerns of environmentalists and city leaders. The only people being unreasonable, in addition to being hypocrites, are those that spoke in opposition to changing the UGA that night.


Why must some turn every mention of 751S into developers vs NIMBYs? Can't we just stick to the facts of this particular case?

I'll gladly admit that I'm opposed to this developer due to credibility and integrity issues. I believe there should be a limit on how much lying, cheating, and stealing one can do. A "three strikes" approach would've ended this foolishness long ago.

Steve Bocckino

The 2005 Comp Plan was "amended" the very year it was adopted. Note that I wrote "amended" and not "improved." No one showed that the plan was unreasonable or contradictory: they just wanted to make a quick buck.

Some people just don't agree with the concept of land use planning, and believe that property rights are inviolate, hence all development is right and proper. I'm not one of them.


Bullicious, I've lived in Lexington, KY, and I find your description to be completely off-base. Downtown lexington, even with the huge UK campus, is a virtual dead zone with very little retail or other small business/restaurants. What little activity there is caters to the rowdy undergrad bar scene crowd. (I was amazed to live on a campus of over 20,000 and not have even ONE music store within walking distance). All, and I mean ALL retail in Lexington is on the overcrowded, and oh so creatively named New Circle Rd. (or its even bigger successor ring, Man O War Blvd.) which loops around the city. It is an unending string of big box stores and sprawling mega-apartment complexes. And the assertion that development ends at the city limits is inaccurate as well. Bedroom communitites like Versailles, Georgetown, and Nicholasville are cookie cutter enough to put Cary to shame.


Oh yeah, and Lexington/Fayette Co. are one single municipal entity. The "city limts" of Lexington don't really even exist, unless you're talking about the Fayette County line.


@tjd - My comments are pointing out a broken system which includes the developers, NIMBY's and the Comp Plan. There are other parts of the system that are flawed as well.

@ all - It should not be that hard to get quality development in Durham. We (Durham) work soooo hard to get what we want...developers work soooo hard to get what they want. And we end up with this mush of a development that could have potentially been greater.

I'll use Southpointe as an example. People spent more time fighting it than trying to make it better. It should have been a true example of a mixed-use shopping district. Why aren't there offices and/or apartments above the "Main Street" area? A parking deck wrapped with retail topped by a hotel? Its not really walkable between the different uses. North Hills is a better example but we could probably still do better.

NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard)

- We want mixed-used development as long as its not near our house. We are suburban and don't need any kind of village center-like development thingy in our neighborhood. Give us our suburban strip developments and leave us alone.
- Density except when its "too tall"
- Affordable housing...again not near our house. Put it over there with the rest of them.

We have all of these ideals that we not only reject but they compete with each other as well. And then throw that on top of developer who would like to make some kind of profit. So will we ever have a quality, profitable development that represents the ideals of the community?


I think people were right fighting Southpoint instead of trying to make it better. People caved when officials promised "no suburban sprawl creep past this line."

Southpoint sucks big time -- and has created a shit storm of problems -- no two bones about it.

There aren't offices or apartments above the Main Street area because it is not a street. it is a parking lot.

We've got UDOs and comprehensive plans. Developers and our city county leaders should work within that framework.

Last, there are plenty of people who support infill and crave true mixed use developemnt in this town -- even when dense and vertical -- so the Nimby bit seems misplaced (except perhaps in regards to affordable housing)


The comprehensive plans and UDO's don't always take into account why development occurs in suburban tiers as opposed to the central core. Most middle to upper income families who relocate to the area look for the best school districts above all else for a better return on their housing investment. Crime rates, shopping, and general appearance and upkeep of neighborhoods rank higher to most people than whether or not it takes an extra 15 minutes' commute, or access to public transportation. Developers and investors respond to the market by building places like 751 South because the location and amenities are what their target demographic wants.

There aren't enough upwardly-mobile middle to upper class families with children interested in living near the downtown core, willing to pay over $250K for a house or condo (no matter how many like-minded people you run into at the downtown coffee shop). A lot of singles and couples without children are also concerned with schools and crime rate, which can affect their home's resale value, and will make decisions with this criteria regardless of being called racist or classist. I also doubt many people would want to live upstairs of a shopping mall for very long. If developers could have isolated that demographic and confirmed enough people to live there in time to recoup their investment, don't you think that type of housing would have been built at Southpoint?

I think the main problem with comprehensive plans is that the people putting them together have ulterior motives. A plan committee dominated by developers and politicians might design a plan for unrestricted suburban sprawl, as much as Durham's plan seems to have been co-opted by environmentalists, local NIMBY's, and a socio-political class that doesn't value the same things as most of the population. I think it's fine to identify environmentally-sensitive areas for low-impact development, but to say just because we drew a boundary line or patch of zoning ten years ago, doesn't put it off limits if the benefits outweigh the cost....as Southpoint and 751 CLEARLY do for Durham (at least to most of us taxpayers who don't blog as much as some on the activists on BCR).

This fight is going to continue as long as a minority who already have continue to deny the dreams of those who don't, or don't have the same political outlook as those who wrote the rules and slipped them by when most of us weren't looking. You can't just plop down in a desirable area surrounded by woods and streams, walk a 1/4 mile to a mega-mall, hop onto a nearby freeway to a nearby R&D campus, and then tell everyone else that there's no more room at the inn. You may have a point if you practice the type of new urbanism you preach, but don't line up at the podium in opposition to projects that look just like yours across the street.


Some of the speakers at the public hearing on 751 South mentioned that few of the jobs created in the development would ever be offered to unemployed Durham residents, indirectly pointing to those living in East Durham.

Attracting the upper-middle class or thereabout to live in an area might not lead to the kind of high-paying jobs we think we're entitled to in Durham, especially in an outsourced global economy, but when successful, tends to create job opportunities for retail and services as most of these newcomers have plenty of disposable income. Don't you think the folks in East Durham, or anywhere else around here without a job, would appreciate the fact that developments like 751 South get the go-ahead? Even if those unemployed folks can't always get across town, someone in the area will, and help maintain a job for someone nearby, as the total impact of growth and jobs benefit the region as much for existing businesses as for the new ones that pop up. That's not to say some retail and service sector locations will fail, as a preferred demographic migrates, but it's not the job of government in the form of UDO's, comprehensive plans, and UGA's to pick winners and losers when they can't solve local neighborhood problems with crime, education, and urban decay sufficient to keep a desirable demographic from leaving to the suburbs.

Steve Bocckino

Like I said, some folks don't believe in planning.


"I'd love to see your data. Atmospheric N deposition is about 10 lbs/acre/year, and data I've seen for SE forests is an export of about 0.1 lbs/acre/year. Life cherishes N. Even if the development got 2.2 lbs/acre/year, it's an order of magnitude more than forests. This N discussion disregards all of the emerging pollutants for urban areas."

Will: Nitrogen absorption in a flat, level plain is greater than that in a sloped area, especially with intermittent streams, as most of the nitrogen and other pollutants are allowed to percolate through the soil and limestone before making its way to surface water or on the long journey to the water table. Nitrogen and other pollutants absorbed in runoff have less time to be sequestered into the soil than if they are allowed to puddle on a flat plot of land. While untouched forested plains absorb more pollutants than developed plains, an engineered land area eliminating the slope can actually reduce all pollutants through the use of berms, landscaping, and other stream and runoff modifiers, so that a plot of land like 751 South and its adjacent road surface can actually improve water quality of adjacent streams and lakes versus leaving it in its natural state and topography.

Furthermore, developments across the 751 highway are located up-slope of the proposed 751 South project. The boundary of the Falls Lake watershed is quite far east of most of south Durham county, such that 751 is not in anyway a ridge barrier to runoff compared to development east of the highway, or north of Stagecoach road. One could argue that such extensive engineering of the project could actually decrease the pollutants going into Jordan Lake from places like Chancellor's Ridge, and the length of road along the boundary of the project.

Will Wilson

GL: Here's my discussion with plots, scroll down to the Baltimore data from Kaushal etal.
There's also temperature issues, peak flow/base flow issues, PAH issues.
Cite a published study; I'll be happy to look at it.

Will Wilson

GL: I'm thinking you want to show results for N-export for SE US forested watersheds with different average slopes, or something like that. I'd love to see the citation.



Relationship between soil permeability and slope in study examining stream buffers in Iowa agriculture.



An NCSU study looking at the rates of Phosphate and Nitrogen transport between undeveloped land and with the use of controlled drainage practices. It does not show data relative to topography and soil permeability (assume a very gentle slope or bottom land), however it does mention the various relationships of these factors on total pollutant levels measured in bodies of water. Note that the amounts of pollutants delivered to the body of water from controlled drainage are comparable to an undeveloped control.

Will Wilson

You noticed that that manual discussed agricultural fields with row crops, not intact forests with a mix of shallow and deep roots, right?


Will: Interesting to note from the map in the Kaushal study, the relatively high water quality nearest streams along the suburban fringe, compared to the impermeable areas in the Durham core. Presumably, the amount of pollution developed over 100 years. What strikes me at first glance is that the water quality at say, New Hope Creek, is "relatively good", compared to some kind of standard. I'm not going to scoop up a glass of New Hope Creek water to test out what is relatively "good".

Comparing water quality in an area as defined on this map as relatively good versus the impermeable areas downtown which are poor, doesn't mean New Hope Creek drainage water quality is better than virgin forest wetlands in a national park, but it does seem to indicate a "sky is falling" argument when we are comparing 751 South to a standard suburban development across the road. It's also a matter of degree to compare the worst with the best, instead of the okay with the less than okay--which is really what we are facing in that area, and why I accept the possibility than sound engineering practices can in some cases reduce runoff of pollutants versus leaving a particular parcel undeveloped, based on a number of factors like topography and soil permeability. The devil is in the details, and I hope the developer would explain how their controlled drainage practices would impact the runoff into Jordan Lake versus leaving the area as is. That doesn't mean you stop progress if the effect is greater than the baseline, but it would help to show the relationship between an "okay" undeveloped situation, and a slightly "less okay" situation when 751 South is built out. We have to decide whether any slight degradation is worth halting this type of development a few yards nearer to a water body than an existing development.

I believe the developer has addressed the difference in impervious surface between Southpoint Mall and 751 South quite well in his presentation. As long as the comparison is between the impact of 751 South, and the impact of similar low-density development across the road, which by the way is up-slope, it's a fair discussion. When you attempt to compare downtown Durham or Southpoint Mall runoff mechanisms with 751 South just to show the worst case scenario to influence layman politicians and residents to halt development, you lose credibility just as much as when you use an unfair comparison to promote development.

Will Wilson

You still have not shown data supporting your assertion.


"You noticed that that manual discussed agricultural fields with row crops, not intact forests with a mix of shallow and deep roots, right?"

Yes, of course, they're talking about Iowa which isn't exactly arboreal. You asked me about the relationship between (sic "pollutant transport and slope")

You're using an ideal control (diverse forested level land). Assuming we have something like that around here, or any other less than ideal forest and topography, the mechanisms are the same. Sequestration of nitrates, phosphates, and other pollutants depend greatly on topography and existence of permanent streams and surface water. Turning a sloped plot of land into a more level plot of land without permanent surface water CAN be better or nearly as good as leaving it alone, simply because it mitigates runoff and sends the pollutants into the ground where they can be taken up by your mix of shallow and deep roots in the soil over longer periods of time.


Will: I think I've made it quite clear the parameters of my argument regarding overall pollutant runoff of sloped undeveloped parcels versus a level engineered parcel (whether rows of corn or townhouses), and provided sources to back them up.

You need to define the parameters of your counterpoint (why N-export mechanisms are superlative compared to other types of runoff), otherwise we are arguing about different things, one in a general sense, the other narrow. If you know what data you are looking for to support your piece of the puzzle, then you are more qualified to find it than I am.

I'm tempted to use the pun "Can't see the forest for the trees...."

Will Wilson

GL: It is an inconvenient truth that carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels alters our climate. It is an inconvenient truth that development harms our environment. Denials don't change the facts, and there are business interests that perpetuate those denials.

(I just saw your Evans etal paper on draining wet soils; development there means ag development; undeveloped has the least N export.)

You've still not supported your (paraphrased) statement that such a massive urban development is more environmentally sensitive than an intact forest. That's because decades of stormwater science has falsified it. When a person makes a testable hypothesis that flies in the face of so much evidence, the scientific burden rests on that individual.

The analogy is that someone states that fairies exist, then demands proof that the statement is untrue.

The National Research Council put out a free book, Urban Stormwater Management in the United States. Here it is, read it online: www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12465#toc. We covered this book in my graduate seminar; I plan to run that seminar again very soon.

You simply can not deny development harms the environment (well, you can, it's a free country). Certainly there are strategies to reduce the environmental harm, but once a development reaches the impervious surface levels of this one, it gets pretty hard.

Realize also that this inordinate focus on N and P simply reflects the difficulty of overcoming business interests and regulating every other dimension of environmental harm: peak flow, base flow, stream temperature, organism diversity, emerging pollutants. But I'll be pleased just to see support for N.

So, many of us are still waiting for a relevant published study providing some support for your assertion.


Will: I'm still waiting for you to answer my question about why you hold N in such high regard compared to all other runoff and erosion mechanisms, and why you can't accept the simple fact that topography is as important mitigating factor of runoff as tree cover. If you can't do this, there's no point in going back and forth. I believe I've provided plenty of published studies to prove the obvious. It's analogous to me saying "I know water is wet", and you asking me to prove it. If it will put your mind at ease, I'll accept your hypothesis on the N-transport cycle of forested land versus deforested land.

However, your constant focus on one single measurable factor, to the exclusion of all other factors considered in land management, is startling for someone with your credentials.

I'm also not impressed by your straw-man arguments about global warming denial, or how development affects the environment, therefore there must be no development. I believe this is exactly how we went off-topic from a simple discussion about mitigating runoff of various pollutants based on topography, permeability, and land management, and how the developers of the 751 project are accomplishing this.

Will Wilson

GL: You missed this:
"Realize also that this inordinate focus on N and P simply reflects the difficulty of overcoming business interests and regulating every other dimension of environmental harm: peak flow, base flow, stream temperature, organism diversity, emerging pollutants. But I'll be pleased just to see support for N."

I'm tiring of going around in circles. This started with my shock that the developer's hacks stated that this development with two-thirds impervious surface will be more environmentally sensitive than a 100% forested area. If you agree with that, show me published studies supporting it.


What if our Code was more like the LEED system?

What if instead of points the developer was truly incentivized (more units, faster processing, etc. - things that actually matter to a developer) for taking the steps beyond the status quo for environmental sensitivity? true mixed-use? developing a cohesive community beyond its borders? and the list goes on (things that matter to the community and the particular areas)...

What do you all think about that possibility?

Will Wilson

There are conservation subdivisions in the UDO, section 6.2.4, and developers get a density credit, I think, for doing them. Some folks say it's not much of an incentive.


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