Wake Forest Gazette, Oct. 27, 2004

Rezoning may be a factor in creek, greenway funding

The Town of Wake Forest and various state agencies have invested heavily in the town's growing greenway system and the restoration of Richland Creek, and more funds are promised and being sought.

Last week, Mayor Vivian Jones, Town Manager Mark Williams and letters from some residents warned that rezoning 8 acres on Durham Road for townhouses that would be largely built in the combined 100- and 500-year floodplain could jeopardize future funding by state agencies. Commissioners Stephen Barrington, Rob Bridges and Chris Malone voted for the rezoning, although seven of the proposed 63 units were removed.

There were no definitive comments from any of the state agencies that have helped fund the town's greenway and restoration efforts, but Lisa Schell, a spokesman for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, said the rezoning was "something they (the governing board) could very well take into consideration for future requests."

Dean Naujoks, the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper who is on the Non Point Source team that approved the money for an engineering study of the Richland Creek restoration, said again he will make sure the team and the CWMTF know about the rezoning. "It's frustrating that they really don't seem to have any type of commitment to protecting that watershed."

The Richland Creek watershed runs into the Neuse River near the intake at Riverplace. Now that the river from the dam to the intake has been classified as a drinking water source, both the town and Raleigh will have to enact watershed rules to help keep sediment and other runoff out of the streams and the river.

Naujok's letter, which the commissioners received the night of their meeting, upset some. Bridges called it "a very unkind and threatening letter." (You can see the full text in last week's edition of the Gazette.)

Naujoks also said the Neuse River Foundation and its riverkeepers can be instrumental in helping cities and towns with their plans. The City of New Bern, which plans to soon pull its wastewater pipe out of the Neuse and use land application, signed an agreement with the NRF never to sell or trade their nitrogen credits as Bay River sold its credits to Butner. In return, Naujoks said, "NRF went to bat for New Bern and requested the Clean Water Management Trust Fund help the city with its plans. That's going to get approved."

The town received a $50,000 state grant for the section of the Smith Creek Greenway that runs three-fourths of a mile from Burlington Mills Road down to the wastewater treatment plant. The project cost $130,000, but it has been marred by silt and flooding.

"The greenway at Smith Creek has serious erosion and silt problems," Barbara Avery, a member of the greenway and recreation advisory committees, wrote to the commissioners before the vote.

"A grand opening of the greenway had to be cancelled because of the silt on the greenway and the pavement eroding. If this development (on Durham Road) will have a huge hill where the fill is going, the greenway is doomed to be impossible to maintain," Avery added.

The fill banks along the Smith Creek greenway reach almost 40 feet high. They were built for Caddell Woods, a development that was approved in the early 1990s before the Neuse River buffer rules were enacted.

Susan Simpson, director of parks and recreation, said the town has passed the first round in the application process for a $50,000 grant for a greenway from the soccer center on Heritage Lake Road to Rogers Road.

Along Richland Creek, there are at least three projects planned or underway.

The town has a commitment for an enhancement grant through the Department of Transportation to build a greenway trail along Richland Creek in the Olde Mill Stream development.

The town has already spent $60,000 as its part for the engineering before restoration construction can begin on Richland Creek from Stadium Drive to the Franklin County line. In fact, the town commissioners voted unanimously later last Tuesday night to approve $12,000 for that effort, a figure included in the $60,000.

The CWMTF has approved a contract with the town for $165,000 for that engineering. Deputy Town Manager Roe O'Donnell says the contract for the actual construction will be over a million dollars, a contract he hopes will be funded by CWMTF.

The Ecosystem Enhancement Program, part of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, plans an ambitious restoration on Richland Creek from Stadium Drive to Durham Road.

The EEP, which took over for the Wetlands Restoration Program last summer, plans to spend $552,000 for channel relocation and buffer restoration and enhancement, spokesman Tad Boggs said. "The timetable is uncertain because the plan itself is still under development," but the money is budgeted and "We expect to continue with the project."

"The restoration project for Richland Creek can be a showpiece for the town, with the innovative methods planned for its stabilization, fish ladders and stream bank restoration," Joe Seigler wrote in a statement this week. Seigler is chairman of the town's greenway committee and also serves on the NPS team with Naujoks.

"This greenway, like that of Smith Creek, is also planned as an educational tool for the many school children of all ages to experience the natural laboratory adjoining their school yards. Wake Forest-Rolesville High School students will have the opportunity to see first-hand the dynamics of our waterways and their struggle to exist with encroaching developments," Seigler wrote.

The three commissioners who voted for the project were asked to give the basis for their votes, whether they were aware of the various projects on Richland Creek, how they would make up the money if state agencies do not fund future greenway and restoration projects and what comments they had heard about the vote.

"I think this is going to be a good project for the community and provide another housing option," Barrington said. "I think there have been a number of examples of developments in floodplain areas that have been good for the community all around."

Barrington also said he thinks the town has "created a history of doing some great things and work, environmentally speaking, like creeks and greenways. I do think we are poised to continue getting money."

If state funds become unavailable, Barrington said the town would have "to look at some other ways to meet our goals of nurturing these areas. I feel as though folks from the state will keep their eye on this and I still feel they will give money to worthwhile projects."

He said a number of people had asked him what he was doing when he voted for the project while a number "felt this is not going to be bad for the community as a whole."

Bridges said he had really agonized over the decision. "This was a tough one. It came back to a property owner's right to do a development on their own property that may eventually not be extremely detrimental to the surrounding area." He said the end product, he thinks, will be a pleasing one.

As for state agencies, "I told the mayor I hope she's wrong" in predicting the vote would dry up funding. "It becomes incumbent upon us to work with these guys, not to cause things to be a detriment. It came back to what we're going to allow a property owner to do on his property."

Bridges said he had heard from some people who were disappointed in the vote "and some who were not sure what the big fuss is about."

Building in a floodplain, he said, "happens. It's been done before, it happens all over the state."

Malone, who is campaigning for a seat on the Wake County Board of Commissioners, did not return a phone call for his comments.

Copyright 2004 The Wake Forest Gazette