Citizens speak out on Aydan Court

John Wilson
Good evening. I’m John Wilson, here tonight as a concerned citizen.

The 5.8-acre tract proposed for Aydan Court is within the boundaries of a state-designated Significant Natural Heritage Area, and was designated so when the applicant purchased it in 2007.

In reviewing the Chapel Hill Planning Department staff report prepared for tonight’s Aydan Court public hearing, I was concerned not to see reference to the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program report regarding the Little Creek Bottomlands and Slopes Significant Natural Heritage Area sent by the Natural Heritage Program to the Planning Department in Feb. 2010.

I am concerned that the numerous boards and commissions that reviewed the Aydan Court applications after Feb. 2010 may not have had the opportunity to consider this important information as part of their reviews.

The Natural Heritage Program is part of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. According to its mission statement, “The program inventories, catalogues, and supports conservation of the rarest and the most outstanding elements of the natural diversity of our state.”

The February 2010 report emphasizes the Natural Heritage Area within which Aydan Court would be built“contains one of the last remnants in the state of the large bottomland forests that once dominated the Triassic Basins and still supports a high diversity of the wildlife typical of this region.”

The report continues: “The upland buffers surrounding the wildlife impoundments – such as the one near the proposed project – are particularly important, in that they provide important areas of refuge for non-aquatic species during the winter months when waters are backed up to the very edge of the floodplain… Breaks in this strip of buffer lands by any one project can have significant consequences for the ability of animals to travel from one area to another… This buffer could be completely eliminated, drastically affecting the entire ecosystem associated with the floodplain forest.”

At Ms. Zinn’s invitation, I walked the Aydan Court site and reviewed the plans with Mr. Radway. After this and additional research, I share the Natural Heritage Program’s concerns regarding the drastic ecological impact a development like Aydan Court could have on the Little Creek Bottomlands and Slopes Significant Natural Heritage Area.

Natural Heritage Program data and recommendations regarding the significance and sensitivity of the Little Creek upland slopes found on the Aydan Court site date back to the original Durham County Inventory of Important Natural Areas, Plants and Wildlife completed by the Program in 1999. “Preservation of upland buffers along the edges of the bottomlands should be given a high priority,” the inventory states. “These slopes provide denning areas for terrestrial species, as well as refuges during periods of high water.

The objective, scientific value of natural area data provided by the Natural Heritage Program is recognized and respected by governmental and non-governmental organizations throughout North Carolina. In its Dec. 11, 2007, memo to the Chapel Hill Planning Dept. regarding Aydan Court, a biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission wrote: “Due to the ecological value of Significant Natural Heritage Areas, we typically suggest that development sites containing SNHAs place a building envelope, no build easement, or permanent conservation easement on the portion of a site that falls within SNHA boundary.”

Of course conservation easements are optional, and Ms. Zinn is entirely within her rights in not wishing to discuss this option. However, she knew this land was especially sensitive when she purchased it. She should not now expect that the Town will do anything less than uphold the highest environmental standards for this Significant Natural Heritage Area. Granting her requests for rezoning and three modifications to Chapel Hill’s Land Use Management Ordinance, including its steep slope regulations and parking quantity standards – would not be appropriate for this location.

I would like to join in the request the Wildlife Resources Commission made of the applicant in its 2007 letter, namely that Ms. Zinn “conduct an environmental assessment to identify 1) negative impacts this development will have on the SNHA, and 2) strategies the applicant could take to avoid, minimize, and mitigate for these impacts.” I commend and support the Chapel Hill Community Design Commission’s request that an environmental assessment be required of the applicant.

In its 2007 letter, the Wildlife Resources Commission also recommended a 150-yard (450-foot) hunting safety buffer around Game Land boundaries. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers letter of April 11, 2007 regarding Aydan Court states that there is “typically a more concentrated amount of hunting activity on waterfowl sub-impoundments.”

One of the proposed Aydan Court buildings is only 25 feet from the Game Land boundary. Doesn’t this raise serious safety and liability issues, especially for a development of this proposed density?

The 2007 Army Corps letter also states: “The waters of Jordan Lake and surrounding Federal Lands are managed for public drinking water supply, fish and wildlife habitat, natural resource based public recreation, and flood storage.” The letter recommends “a 100-foot buffer of undisturbed vegetation be left adjacent to the boundary to help protect water quality.”

I too request a minimum 100-foot undisturbed buffer from the property boundary instead of the current buffers — many of which will be cleared — and the current, inadequate tree protection lines.

If built, Aydan Court will greet Chapel Hill visitors and residents arriving from the east on Hwy. 54. What will they see within a state-designated Significant Natural Heritage Area containing critical wildlife habitat, sensitive wetlands and a major public drinking water supply?

I ask the Council to hold the applicant to the highest possible environmental standards for any development within this Significant Natural Heritage Area, and thus to deny the pending Aydan Court Rezoning request and Special Use Permit applications.

Thank you very much.

http://www.townofchapelhill.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=7978

http://www.ncnhp.org/Pages/mission.html

http://townhall.townofchapelhill.org/agendas/2010/03/15/1d/1d-7-2010_february_nc_heritage_site_report-rizzo_center.pdf

http://townhall.townofchapelhill.org/agendas/2010/03/15/1d/1d-6-2008_nc_natural_heritage_program_biennial_protection_plan-rizzo_center.pdf

http://www.townofchapelhill.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=7978

http://townhall.townofchapelhill.org/agendas/2008/10/20/1b/1b-17_usace-ncwrc-m-brough-combinedcomments_20081020.pdf

Del Snow
I truly believe that the density planned for Aydan Court is a mistake.

I have too much respect for Ms. Zinn, who has a long history of environmental values, to believe that she would opt for, what she herself called, one family sprawl, and too much respect for all of you to believe that you would agree to the misguided application before you tonight.

As land availability for new development dwindles, Council will see an increasing number of applications that stretch limits.  Overrides of LUMO regulations will set precedents for other challenged parcels. Despite the attempts at storm water controls and tree preservation in this application, the fact remains that mitigation of damage CAUSED by development should NOT be seen as protection and preservation. It is incumbent upon a land purchaser to explore constraints BEFORE purchase, not to expect modifications after the fact. For the LUMO to continue to have any validity, it MUST be complied with and respected.

Rezoning requires 3 findings: a manifest error in the chapter, changing conditions in the area, and achieving the purposes of the CP.  There is no manifest error in the Chapter. The open space/R-1 designation is appropriate to this environmentally challenged parcel.

No one would argue that conditions on the 54 corridor have not changed. Much as happened there and more will continue to occur. However, the relationship between the entire corridor’s change to one specific fragile 5.8 acre parcel is not a justification. Citing approvals granted to other parcels that are not on problem land is irrelevant.

Ms. Zinn states that a zoning atlas amendment “should involve measuring a proposal against the adopted goals of the Town and CP.” Please refer to the handout for contraindications to this development in the CP.

While the physical footprint of Aydan Court, as newly proposed, may have been somewhat reduced, an increased population living there will create a greater impact on this property. The condominiumsproposed for AC fill no pressing need or gap in the CH housing market and could be provided in a redevelopment scenario or on less environmentally compromised sites. Natural Heritage Areas, on the other hand. CANNOT be replaced once gone.  What an embarrassment it would be for Chapel Hill to pave over Paradise and put up a parking lot.

Of course, Ms. Zinn will develop this property and the LUMO DOES specifically address development in watershed protection areas.  The LUMO states that cluster development is preferred and recommended. A legitimate and responsible use of right does exist.

In summation, the applicant bought a severely constrained property. Implicit in this purchase was the plan to modify LUMO regulations to suit financial objectives. Small cluster development, that truly respects this parcel, is an available option for the developer. It is your decision to make.  Please do not approve the rezoning request.

Aydan Court still draws Concerns, Carrboro Citizen, Feb 24, 2011

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