Monday, May 29, 2017

A New Threat

On Monday May 22, 2017, developer Joe Pearson submitted a rezoning proposal to the City Planning Department for the Lineberger family parcel we call Franklin Woods. The City of Gastonia Planning Commission will meet Thursday, August 3, 2017, in the Public Forum Room in the Gaston County Courthouse to rule on this proposal. The Gaston County Courthouse is located at 325 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Gastonia.  The meeting will begin at 5:30pm. A large public presence will be key to our opposition's success, to show that this issue matters to many folks, not just a few.  Any appeal of the Planning Commission decision to the City Council will be heard at their September 19 meeting.

This blog remains opposed to any commercial development of that environmentally sensitive transitional parcel, as neighbors and the City have for several decades.  However, on July 28, for the first time in forty years of history and at least six rezoning attempts, City planning staff have recommended a commercial rezoning.  The threat to Franklin Woods is real.  We will need your presence to lobby against this development with City leaders at scheduled meetings, and we will need your vocal and financial support to obtain help to do so.  We have a shorter approval schedule than our last fight over Academy Sports, so we need help now.  What can you do?  See the information at

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Thank You

Gaston Gazette photograph of our sign at Gardner Park Drive and Armstrong Park Road on Tuesday, April 19, 2016.  The Gastonia City Council voted 7-0 to deny the rezoning and allow "No Big Box in Franklin Woods." They also expressed strong support for working on existing problems with flooding in the Duharts Creek basin.  Thank you to Mayor John Bridgeman, and Councilmen Robert Kellogg, Dave Kirlin, Jim Gallagher, Todd Pierceall, Porter McAteer, and David Humphries.The Gazette article on the meeting can be found here.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Latest News on the Proposal

Site plan with aerial as of December 15, 2015 community meeting
Site plan as of December 15, 2015 community meeting

Site plan elevations as of December 15,2015 community meeting

Lineberger Proposal October 2015

Lineberger Proposal October 2015

Lineberger Proposal amended June 26 2015

Original Lineberger Proposal May 26 2015

For at least the fifth time in forty years, the Lineberger family is seeking to re-zone a very environmentally sensitive wooded patch between Duharts Creek and Franklin Boulevard  - land across from the entrance to Lowe’s, Sam’s Club, and K-Mart.  That parcel keeps City neighborhoods from the noise, lights and stormwater runoff flooding from commerce north of Franklin; and a rezoning for a commercial big box location would bring all that mess against us with only minimum buffers.  This is directly counter to a negotiated zoning in 2006 for a transitional use as senior apartments in the location and against decades of planning department counsel against heavy development.  Please join with your neighbors in Gardner Park, Gardner Woods, New Hope Acres and Sedgefield - and concerned citizens across the City - to preserve this land from commercial intrusion and more traffic congestion.

Proposed Academy Sports storefront

On May 26 2015, Mountcastle Corporation of Johnson City, TN, representatives for the Lineberger family, owners of the tract (tax ID 119705, seen in top banner from the TerraFly website), filed a request to have that parcel rezoned from O-M-CD (conditional use zoning) to C-3-CD (unrestricted commercial use).  They submitted plans (pictured above) for a ten-acre-plus commercial development, half of which would be a big box retail location which would require up to twelve feet of infill soil on what is the largest remaining natural floodplain for the upper portion of Duharts Creek, an area heavily stressed by the creation of Franklin Square, Gaston Mall and its redesign, and other shops in adjoining areas north of Franklin Boulevard. Development in such a way of this parcel would eliminate noise, light and floodplain buffers between the most-intensely-visited commercial development in the city and the Gardner Park and Gardner Woods neighborhoods that are fifty- and forty-year-old established and healthy middle-class residential areas.

Planning Department staff review of the proposal occurred on June 3. One of their primary comments was that more detail was needed on the proposed development in order for staff to comment further on the proposal. [7/21/15:  Received the June 26 updated proposal from Planning staff today and have posted above.] [8.19.15:  A traffic study for the development was later submitted to Planning staff, and is available on request from them or us. ]  [10.19.15: Received additional graphic details of project details and alternatives,  two posted above.] [12.8.15:  Received additional graphics, posted above,]

The Planning Commission was originally set to hear this case in August 2015, but the petitioner has asked for a one-month delay several times.  After the petitioner held a required community meeting on December 15, 2015 (at which time we learned that the only confirmed tenant of the development is the big box store on the right, Academy Sports + Outdoors), the Commission was asked by the petitioner to review this zoning change request on February 4, 2016. At that meeting, however, the Commission voted to allow a one-month delay to March 3, 2016 for the presentation of the petitioner's rezoning request. The delay will allow staff to issue a report with their evaluation of the petitioner's tardily-submitted site plan, and will allow representatives from the City, NCDOT and petitioners to meet to discuss a separate side agreement covering this parcel that dates from the early days of Franklin Square's development. That agreement requires that an additional lane of traffic be added to Franklin on the south side if this parcel is developed.  City Council would then vote on any appeal confirming or rejecting the Planning Commission's recommendations at their meeting on April 19, 2016. UPDATE March 4, 2016:  THANK YOU to the Gastonia Planning Commission for voting 5-2 against rezoning last night. Final votes against: Jim Stewart [Ward 3], Pamela D. Goode, Chairman [Ward 4], Rodney Armstrong [Ward 5], Bob Biggerstaff [Ward 6], and Mark Epstein [At Large No. 2]. Final votes for: Bob Cinq-Mars [Ward 2], Alec Long [At Large No. 1]. Absent: Jerry Fleeman [Ward 1].

The aim of this blog is to give information for those wishing to oppose this large commercial intrusion, which ignores the needed buffer and floodplain functions of the property currently, the negotiated uses of the property agreed to with area stakeholders, and the stated planning of community leaders as they looked at best practices for land use in the area.   To oppose this development is not to oppose all development as our region grows and changes, but to insist on appropriate development.  Commerce and neighborhoods need each other, and need public officials to work with and for both groups, not pit one against the other.

How to Help Stop This Zoning Change

Current zoning map (the parcel is within the blue at center)

1. The most effective way to be heard on this matter is to show up, stand up, speak up, and be counted as one of many who are opposed to the rezoning in front of the decision-makers who will be ruling on it. Emails, calls, and letters are helpful - but absent an overflow crowd on decision night saying "no, thanks!", other voices can prevail.  Please attend these two meetings in personon March 3, 2016, at 5:30pm, when the Gastonia Planning Commission meets in the Public Forum Room, Gaston County Court House, 325 Dr. Martin Luther King Way (formerly known as 325 N. Marietta Street), in Gastonia;  and on April 19, 2016, at 6:00pm, when the Gastonia City Council meets in the same Public Forum Room, Gaston County Court House, 325 Dr. Martin Luther King Way, in Gastonia.

2.  If you live in the Gardner Park, Gardner Woods, New Hope Acres or Sedgefield neighborhoods - or if you are just a friend of our cause - attend the monthly Neighborhood Information Meetings until this issue is resolved.  The location and time of the next meeting will be listed here when set.  [Next meeting:  Thursday, April 14, 7-8pm, at Covenant Baptist Church, 3131 Erskine Drive, Gastonia.]  Even for neighbors not living within sight of this development or near the creeks affected by it, there is a need for solidarity in limiting intrusions into our neighborhoods that affect the quality of life of us all.  Today it's this issue; but tomorrow it may be the opening-up of Pamela Street to Franklin Boulevard or linking Gardner Park Drive to the east, the handling of traffic and safety issues on heavily-traveled Armstrong Park and Redbud, or school and construction issues on our area periphery.  Sharing concerns and strategies for working together makes us more effective in being heard by decision-makers. [12.01.15 - At the Nov.17, 2015 City Council meeting, Council Member Brenda Craig accused us of spreading misinformation about closing Pamela.  While City Manager Munn acknowledged that early maps for Pamela once had the road linked to Franklin Boulevard, he said that Pamela was a City street and not a state one and could not be opened without City Council approval, and there were no plans for that.  My point in making and standing by the above statement is that despite the current council's proclamations that they have no plans to open Pamela - a statement the above line does not assert, by the way - is that if City Council can attempt to unilaterally declare this parcel scheduled for development through a quid pro quo land swap, despite 40 years of Planning Department advice saying no to commercial development there, then neighbors will have been served notice that preserving the neighborhoods from commercial intrusion and traffic noise is not the priority it once was.]

3.  If you live in the neighborhoods or are a friend of the cause presented in this blog, we can use your help to pay the costs of an attorney to present our case before official decision-makers.  This helps us with legal arguments to back up other factual, visceral and emotional ones about the site's future. At our neighborhood meetings we may decide if investing other monies in other strategies to share our opinions is also merited.

4. Share with friends through social media, or volunteer your time to distribute flyers about the rezoning in your neighborhood.  

5.  Do state directly your opposition to this commercial development to those who will be making the call on its future - either at the public meetings, or directly by post, email, or a phone call.  Note that Planning Commission members have to report any personal contacts on an issue before their board, and you are encouraged to instead contact Planning Division staff with concerns before their meeting.  In a January 19, 2015 editorial in The Gaston Gazette, Mayor Bridgeman says he wants Gastonia to become a “growth city” with "projects already in the works – conversion of the Loray Mill into business and residential space on the city’s west side, construction of a new Harris-Teeter grocery on the east side" and "looking ahead, the mayor cites a new YMCA, a new baseball stadium and development across from Franklin Square as signs that would show Gastonia is growing [emphasis added]."   Please remind our leaders that not all locations are suited for commercial growth.

City of Gastonia Planning Department

Garland Municipal Business Center
150 S. York Street, Gastonia, NC  28052
(P.O. Box 1748, Gastonia, NC  28053-1748)
704.854.6652 (office)
704.869.1960 (fax)

Planning Director Jason Thompson, AICP

Land Use & Zoning Administrator Drew Pearson, CZO, CFM

Gastonia Planning Commissioners
Jerry Fleeman [Ward 1], Bob Cinq-Mars [Ward 2], Jim Stewart [Ward 3], Pamela D. Goode, Vice-Chairman [Ward 4], Rodney Armstrong [Ward 5], Bob Biggerstaff [Ward 6], Alec Long [At Large No. 1], Mark Epstein [At Large No. 2]

City of Gastonia Ward Maps

Gastonia City Council

Robert Kellogg, Ward 1
City Office: 704.866.6720
Home: 704.953.8529
Fax: 704.854.6607
Address: 1652 Lowell Bethesda Road, M
Gastonia, NC 28056

Dave Kirlin, Ward 2 
City Office: 704.866.6720
Home: 704.866.8700
Fax: 704.854.6607
Address: 2600 Thomas Trail
Gastonia, NC 28054 

James Gallagher, Ward 3 
City Office: 704.866.6720
Home: 704.854.9747
Fax: 704.854.6607
Address: 1340 Bucknell Avenue
Gastonia, NC 28054

Todd Pierceall, Ward 4
City Office: 704.866.6720
Contact Number: 980.329.6294
Fax: 704.854.6607
Address: 1320 West Davidson Avenue
Gastonia, NC 28052

Porter McAteer, Ward 5
City Office: 704.866.6720
Home: 704.865.3065
Fax: 704.854.6607
Address: 405 West Sixth Avenue
Gastonia NC 28052-4033

David Humphries, Ward 6
City Office: 704.866.6720
Home: 704.862.8239
Fax: 704.854.6607
Address: 1611 Belmar Drive
Gastonia, NC 28052

John Bridgeman, Mayor
City Office: 704.866.6720
Phone: 704.865.0302
Address: 2510 Armstrong Circle
Gastonia, NC 28054


History of the Parcel

Map by Lauren Frame from the Gaston Gazette, December 16, 2014

On December 16, 2014, Gastonia City Council Members Walter Kimble, Dave Kirlin and Porter McAteer voted against accepting a donation of land around the current parcel. According to the next day's Gaston Gazette, when the City voted 4-3 to accept the Lineberger family’s donation of 27 wooded acres - a 200-300 foot buffer around the western, southern and eastern ends of the tract now the subject of a rezoning request - the City prevented contiguous landowners in Gardner Park from filing a protest petition challenging the rezoning.  "Such a petition makes it harder for a zoning measure to pass, because it requires a supermajority of City Council support." 

Harold and Joe Lineberger are pictured, at lower center and lower right, with UNC-CH officials in 1984. Courtesy North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives

In the - perhaps understated - words of the December 2014 gift over to the City, the parcel now being considered for rezoning has "an extensive history of potential development."  This rezoning case is not one of neighbors resisting commercial development in knee-jerk "NIMBY" fashion. Instead, it is the latest round in a half-century conversation about how to do growth in the area for the benefit of all.  Since 1939 the A. C. Lineberger estate has owned the parcel as part of originally over 400 wooded acres - some of which became the three-phase Franklin Square commercial development between Franklin Boulevard and Interstate 85, and another 300 acres lies north of Interstate 85 due north of Franklin Square and is currently zoned for industrial development.  That latter parcel is the source of much study on how its development might affect an already crowded corridor. The Lineberger family itself is one of the founding families of the textile industry in Gaston County, starting its first mill in 1835 and at one time owning twenty mills in the county.  They have an impressive history of philanthropy and helped found the Lineberger Cancer Research Center at UNC-CH in 1984.

Larger Lineberger tract north of I-85 and Franklin Square, courtesy Google Maps

The family lands south of Franklin Boulevard have always been problematic to develop, both because they were largely floodplain and also because they were sensitively placed next to thriving residential neighborhoods. Our current Mayor, in lobbying as a realtor unsuccessfully to get approval for all 400 plus Lineberger acres to be developed by the Diran Corporation in 1974, told city leaders then, among other things, that "the highest and best use of the property was for business, which therefore creates more jobs and more revenue for our City."

Letter from a young pre-Mayor John Bridgeman advocating commercialization of this parcel.

But not long after that, owner Joe Lineberger toured the southside parcel in question with a group of neighbors and agreed that the area south of Franklin ought not to be developed but be kept as some sort of natural preserve.  In fact, neighbor Earl Holt reports that Lineberger offered to gift over to the City the entire forty-acre parcel south of Franklin if the city would rezone the area north for commercial use.  The City Attorney rejected that gift as being an illegal "contract zoning."

Stormwater drains under Franklin Boulevard from Franklin Square and onto the periphery of the southside parcel.

In 1988 part of Lineberger lands north of Franklin were finally rezoned for commercial use and became the first phase of Franklin Square. That development proceeded with little design concerns for pedestrians (no sidewalks along Franklin Boulevard), nor for environmental impact.  Storm drainage from Franklin Square simply was routed under Franklin Boulevard and dumped on to the southside parcel floodplain opposite.  Coupled with a change in city ordinances which allowed for the infill of existing floodplains, this marked the beginning of twenty-five years of infill and alteration of the natural drainage basin of the creek upstream from the southside Franklin property [City signs label this "Duhart Creek", but the official USGS place name is actually Duharts Creek].  That has added to the floodplain pressures that the entire southside parcel endures as both the runoff basin from Franklin Square as well as the natural overflow area for the confluence of a now more swiftly moving, more channeled, Duharts and several adjoining tributary creeks at the parcel.  Extra commerce has led to attendant other stresses on the parcel, including the effects of traffic on reduced air and water quality.

1991 proposal for mixed business and multifamily development

In 1988 the Linebergers, NCDOT, Franklin Square Properties, and the City agreed that any development of family lands on the south side of Franklin would call for additional right-of-way dedication and construction of a third "through lane" on Franklin Boulevard going east.  In 1991, there was a request to rezone the southside property from single family residential to B-2C (Highway Business) and R-gC (Multifamily) conditional use districts. This request was denied by the Planning Commission and withdrawn before the City Council vote.  In its April 4, 1991 recommendation the Planning Department staff said that although the property was no longer suitable for single family use, given the major shopping center across the street, it was not a suitable location for any commercial development: 
...adjoining the property to the south is an established neighborhood, Gardner Park, and homes located south to the Duhart Creek flood plain.  The existing trees and ground cover help shield the neighborhood from the effects of commercial development along Franklin Boulevard and aid in reducing flooding conditions near their properties.  Disturbing the area immediately adjacent to the floodplain would create additional water runoff and reduce the number of trees, undergrowth and pervious surfaces.
The staff recommended that multifamily use alone might be an acceptable option if stormwater detention ponds were required for a 100-year event rather than the then-mandated 10-year event.

1991 proposal multifamily section sketch

In 1997, the Linebergers' requested a CP/CUD (Planned Commercial) conditional use district.  Neighbors organized and asked for modifications to the plan in a series of meetings with family representatives and city officials, but the CUD was ultimately voted down by the City Council.   The CUD would have required an amendment to the City's 2010 Comprehensive Plan to recommend office and institutional uses approved through a conditional use process that, though it had to address floodplain protection and some other negative environmental impacts, was deemed insufficient.  The portion of the 2010 Plan that called for the development of a community greenway on the southside of the parcel remained unaffected.

2002 proposal for commercial development

In 2002 the family submitted a proposal for a commercial shopping strip.  Planning staff noted that the important issues for the subject property had remained the same since the l99l zoning
The subject area currently exists as the only land separating the Gardner Park/Gardner Woods neighborhood from one of the region's most highly active retail centers and the traffic on Franklin Boulevard. Historically, City policy has viewed this area as both transitional and environmentally sensitive. The property owner must be allowed to make reasonable use of the developable portions of the property where it will in no way result in any increase in flooding along any portion of Duhart Creek. Reasonable use (not be confused with highest and best use) means being allowed to achieve reasonable economic return for one's property.  A transitional area should be limited to uses which will not create environmental problems for adjoining residential areas.
Staff's recommendation in 2002 was for a plan amendment that, instead of the shopping strip proposed, would allow a mixed use development containing offices, a limited amount of small shops, and possibly attached housing mixed in as either second story housing or live-work units. "Compared to a strictly commercial development, such use creates less overall traffic, provides variation in peak travel times, can require less impervious surfaces, creates a sense of place, and generates much less activity during evenings and weekends." Staff noted that residential and office uses generate fewer trips per day than retail land uses, and require fewer parking spaces per square foot of development than commercial uses. They also noted that extensive tall evergreen buffering should be placed along the back edge of any development, separating the development from the floodplain/conservation area.  The 2002 commercial submission was not approved.

2006 approved land use plan for senior apartments on the parcel, with minimized disturbance

In 2006, after developers and neighbors worked together, the subject property was changed to a Conditional Use Rezoning. Special conditions of the rezoning included allowing the development of senior residential units, no disturbance of the floodplain area, preservation of a portion of the existing wooded areas, sidewalk installation and extensive tree plantings along Franklin Boulevard and the rear property line, special lighting and signage and outside operational restraints, and dedication to the City of a specific area surrounding the proposed development (28.75 acres at the time of the CUR).  Development of the property then hinged on funding from a federal program offering assistance for the construction of senior housing, and the project was not built when that funding was not forthcoming.

Issues versus Current Zoning

2006 zoning plan approved for senior apartments

The developers note up front that their proposal differs from the current Conditional Use Zoning in several ways that have to be addressed by actions of officials before the property can be rezoned.

  • The property recently given to the City is smaller than that required under the 2006 rezoning.  In 2006 28.75 acres were to be donated to the City including all of the flood plain, while now the owners of the parcel are asking for 27 acres to suffice.
  • The 1988 agreement for a right-of-way dedication along the entire length of the southside parcel along Franklin Boulevard would have to be declared resolved through the December 2014 donation of land around the parcel to the City.
  • An updated agreement will need to outline the continuing obligations of all parties in the 1988 agreement related to the required road widening improvements along Franklin Boulevard.

But neighbors have additional concerns about the particulars of this plan.

1. Contra Agreement, Contra Plan. The 2006 rezoning was a negotiated agreement that took in the interests of all parties.  Not everyone got what they wished, but all needs were listened to.  The suddenness of this deal, the expected quid pro quo on the encircling floodplain when coupled with a disregard for the rest of the 2006 agreement and ten years of planning on a greenway, has the feel of contract zoning.  At the very least the process shows a strong-arm and unhealthy approach toward neighborhoods and zoning-controlled development.  The spartan particulars of this request ignore decades of planning department counsel on amenable development.

Front view of 2006 proposed senior apartments
2. Noise and Lighting Issues.  In 2006, with the property zoned for senior apartments with plentiful tree buffers, noise and light abatements were much less needed than with a more intense commercial use.  The current proposal intrudes about as "in your face" design to neighbors as it could.  Along its most prominent southernmost point, there is minimum vegetation screening near a detention basin of a size designed for an unnamed-year storm.  An unsightly retaining wall will hold up infill dirt that will raise the parking lot at the back of the parcel level with Franklin Boulevard, but also make it considerably higher - twelve foot - than the existing lay of the land near the creek.  The wall will keep the central high ground in the floodplain from its current role as a natural sponge for floodplain waters and its height will force lights and noise and traffic pollution higher into neighbor properties view.   Necessary extensive and high evergreen screening is not offered to mitigate this intrusion.

3.  Traffic.  The Gaston Gazette reported last fall that the cities of Gastonia and Lowell and NCDOT are paying $125,000 for a study by Kimley Horn Associates to improve traffic along the I-85 and Franklin corridors.  It notes that the Lineberger family is also contributing $5000 to the the cost of the study, as the potential development of their properties will both put additional stress on the Franklin Corridor and derive substantial economic benefit from it.  Why do anything before this study is complete?  Must decision-makers decide first, and plan later?  Judging from the current traffic jams along the Franklin Corridor and failure to provide adequately for traffic volume and pedestrian and cyclist safety in the area, that may already be the norm.  Congestion is a price of growth sometimes, but when it trumps area liveability, the tax base that growth is supposed to generate ultimately suffers. You can add your opinions to their study by the completing the survey here - but note that they DO NOT mention that the Lineberger Family helped fund the survey, and have no info about the planned commercial development of this parcel or lands north of I-85.  The options to choose from have limited details and may open up our neighborhood to further intrusion and traffic. Use the comment boxes to tell them no to this rezoning and to preserve neighborhoods with smarter sustainable growth.

Duharts Creek drains from just west of Eastridge Mall down to the South Fork of the Catawba at Cramerton (map courtesy of the US Geological Survey's The National Map website)

4. Flooding and Environmental Quality Issues. The detention pond at the south of the proposed development is only designed to handle runoff from the new development's paved area.  When Franklin Square was originally built, runoff from the large area of parking and buildings was piped under Franklin Boulevard and emptied just beyond the street around this parcel. If this area is developed, how will that runoff water be affected?  The development will certainly affect the ability of the existing parcel to function as it should to mitigate stormwater drainage made worse by nearly thirty years of infill development upstream - and if newly and controversially rezoned properties along Glenwood Drive get developed along the D-7 tributary, add that runoff to Duharts Creek capacity here.

Panel 3565 of FEMA's Flood Insurance Mapping Program showing Duharts Creek and its tributaries feeding into the southside parcel floodplain (from the North Carolina Flood Mapping Program website)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's Floodplain Management Program has a bare minimum flood ordinance requirement so that small communities can adopt the ordinance and participate in its insurance:  construction must result in no rise in the base flood elevation (the "100 year storm" line).  But that outlier standard masks considerable changes that floodpain infill brings in the frequency and severity of flooding from less rare flooding events. Hence, FEMA encourages the adoption of stronger ordinances limiting floodplain infill as communities grow. Wake County does not allow any fill in the floodplain. Charlotte has restricted building in local floodplains, requiring special permits for any exception since 1994, and has a voluntary buy-back program for properties built in floodplains before regulation to return those areas to a more natural state.  In 2000 Charlotte became the first community in the country to use not just FEMA flood maps of past flooding but also community-generated maps predicting future flood-prone areas based on expected development changes upstream.

1992 FEMA Letter to City chastizing it for violating their own floodplain infill regulations.

Gastonia used to have a stronger ordinance that did not allow fill.  When Franklin Square was expanded in the early 1990s, over eight acres of illegal infill occurred along Tributary D-3 which drains the Lineberger lands north of I-85 and runs under the current Lowe's location. In response to a formal letter of complaint by FEMA to the City, City Council quietly passed a change in its Ordinances allowing infill.

Target construction and Duharts Creek realignment from the Stewart Perry Company's website

The fact is, development in floodplains always has consequences downstream, which is why such development should be tightly regulated. When the Target store was added to the back of the old Gaston Mall site in the late 2000s, greatly disrupting the existing Duharts Creek basin, there was certainly yeoman effort made to "make it work" by attempting a meandering stream recreation, using floodplain plantings, bioretention ponds, and Enkamat retention matting.  Even so, the project generated a substantial amount of soil runoff, so much so that the Catawba Riverkeeper organization, an environmental watchdog group, complained that where Duharts Creek entered Lake Wylie, water depths had now rapidly decreased.

Redesign of the upper reaches of Duharts Creek near the current Target (courtesy Catawba Riverkeeper website)

Carolina Wetland Services (CWS) probably did as good a job as they could mitigating the "unavoidable" consequences of the dramatic stream alteration - nearly 2000 linear feet of Duharts Creek stream bank relocation and 660 feet of piping and infill over Tributary D-8, infilling nearly an acre of wetlands.  On a visit there in late June, I noticed a blue heron searching for food among the lilypads in one of the ponds behind the Target store. But CWS's own report to the State's Division of Water Resources notes that Duharts Creek and its tributary there were a "non-supporting" stream system, meaning the streams are highly disturbed and do not support the expected life for such streams. 

From the CWS report to DWS on Gaston Mall Redevelopment

"Phase II" stormwater runoff water requirements began in the City in 2008, and all new development over one acre, including this parcel and the 300 acres of Lineberger property upstream, will have to meet Phase II standards for "best management practices (BMP)" in on-site handling of stormwater.  The goal is that post-construction stormwater will be not only controlled to pre-construction levels, but that run-off water leaving the site must also be of a certain required quality in regards to clarity, turbidity of suspended solids and nitrogen content. Included in those regulations is a requirement that all stormwater "BMPs" be maintained and inspected annually. Is there sufficient attention made in the inspection of the effectiveness of those BMPs?  Given the overgrowth along the Duharts Creek relocation, the most prominent "BMP" in the City, I just do not know.

View of the Duharts Creek relocation looking across to Target from where it enters a culvert under the old Gaston Mall site (own photo, July 2, 2015)

In a summer which has seen the third sequel to the movie "Jurassic Park," perhaps the key moral question of the original story, and this development push, has been lost.  Folks there were, in the words of a doubting Ian Malcolm, "so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should."  Given that the very maps used to determine the location of the 100-year floodplain are faulty next to this parcel (see the next blog entry), perhaps a pause to consider the flooding consequences of this particular development is due.

Yes, that Ian Malcolm from the Jurassic Park movie.

Faulty FEMA Floodplain Maps

From FEMA's Flood Map Service Portal, modified with my labels

The current FEMA Flood Hazard maps for Duharts Creek were set in 2007, with one 2013 addendum for the Target creek reconstruction at Tributary D-8 that ignores the added bioretention ponds, and with no changes yet to reflect the infill at the Tributary D-6 conjunction for the 2013 Starbucks coffee shop.  These maps are of data provided by and used by the City. And they are inaccurate, perhaps dangerously so, in the area immediately south of the parcel proposed for development.

Floodplain map provided me by City Stormwater Department, with my labels

The map simply ignores the effects of the house sitting at 402 Deerwood Drive directly across the creek, nor does it take into account the effect of the four-foot high retaining wall going 3/4 around that property (see closeup above), all along the Duharts Creek side and the Armstrong Creek side and to my family's property side at the south.  Those constructions, permitted in the flood plain by the City in the 1970s before a floodplain ordinance and intensive commercial developments upstream, have a major effect on water flow during significant flood events. [For the second time in just eighteen months, Duharts Creek hit 100-year flood event lines at this parcel on December 30, 2015 - watch the video below and see many other images from this event at our Facebook page.]

Duharts Creek/Lineberger Parcel Flood Event December 30, 2015

The increased runoff from those commercial developments along Duharts Creek has altered the ability of Armstrong Creek to drain out quickly, and the number and severity of floodplain events in the Armstrong Creek tributary's floodplain have increased, impacting the enjoyment and use of those properties. The "100-year floodplain" along Armstrong Creek certainly functions more like a ten-to-twenty year one now.  Below are two videos showing how a very heavy summer storm (four-inches in two hours - a volume that is high, but not a 100-year event) inundated that floodplain in the summer of 2014.  As part of a family that owns a 100-year floodplain, I'd rather City action not turn it into a regularly recurring swamp.

A spring shower view across my family's backyard, the "100-year floodplain" of Armstrong Creek, with creek at back of property; and same yard becoming fully flooded in summer 2014 in two YouTube videos below

Armstrong Creek is the "J-shaped" creek leading into the Lineberger parcel at upper center (from the USGS National Map website)

Armstrong Creek, Tributary D-4 on City/FEMA maps, drains a wide basin from Armstrong Circle at New Hope Road to major portions of the Sedgefield, Gardner Woods, and Gardner Park neighborhoods.  In the last forty years its storm flow has also increased, in part due to new runoff from the Armstrong Park Road extension south to New Hope Road and commercial developments along the northeast side of New Hope down to Redbud Drive.  In water volume, it is the largest single tributary to Duharts Creek.  Where it joins Duharts Creek adjacent to the southside Lineberger parcel and just yards from the confluence of Tributary D-3, the conjunction could be said to be the most sensitive to commercial intrusion of any in the county.

Water volume discharge rates for Duharts Creek and its tributaries (from NC Floodplain Mapping Program)

The 12-foot high retaining wall at the back of the proposed Lineberger development will sit across Duharts Creek from the unaccounted-for 4-foot high wall at 402 Deerwood, and at that creek's confluence with Armstrong Creek, altering water behavior during flood events.  Currently, the City's Stormwater Division does not have any measuring station for ongoing stream flow monitoring on either commercially developed Duharts or residential Armstrong Creeks.   Instead, cross-sections are shot on Duharts (see the FEMA map at top, and below) to monitor any changes in the stream channel.  Only one current cross-section is taken along the floodplain section of Armstrong Creek between Deerwood Drive and Pamela Street.  This area recently had storm channel work done by the City (with no notice to adjacent property owners across the creek) in an effort to mitigate erosion along the expanding creekbank that threatened to undermine several houses along Pamela Street.  Why does the City and FEMA not regularly collect stream flow and storm channel profile data along this important waterway?  Would it not be easier to get data to prevent problems rather than create problems due to the absence of accurate data?

Cross-sections to be monitored - but how often? and why not re-checked after each new floodplain construction?

I have asked if the City Stormwater Department has plans to correct and update its maps, and have been told there are none; but that they will continue to coordinate with FEMA to have this reach remodeled and resurveyed to current conditions. "Until that point, the maps and model are the best tool we have available, and are the only ones recognized by FEMA." By the way, FEMA says that a request for a letter of map revision (LOMR) to its floodplain maps must come from the "CEO of the municipality," i.e., in our case, the mayor - a developer who has announced the commercialization of this southside parcel as a top personal priority for 2015.

Our one-time neighbor, and friend of nature, E.C.

As a nine-year-old new to the neighborhood, I used to jump across Armstrong Creek, then three feet across with waist-high-deep banks, and dig out crawfish.  That same creek is now ten feet across in spots and has banks over my six-foot-tall head.   In the 1970s I explored Duharts Creek around the Lineberger parcel with a nature-lover you may know, Mountain Man Eustace Conway, who lived just down the street on Deerwood. There were minnows and turtles and crawdads in the creek then. Eustace, not surprisingly, wanted to explore much farther and deeper and snakier along the creek than I did.   Once a flood brought a massive alligator turtle into the neighbor's yard.  Habitat changes brought by infill development make me doubt there are any alligator turtles in Duharts now. I wonder what it would look like after this proposed development, or after the even heavier developments across I-85 that are proposed. I don't have the skills to model and mitigate those impacts (my son studying civil engineering at Vandy might one day).  
But I hope our decision-makers will at least have accurate data to do the modeling on which to base sound development decisions. I don't believe they currently do.

[7.12 update - some good news.  A neighbor along Rosemary Lane reports that her German shepherd found a snapping turtle in the creek recently - so maybe the summer's drought has let the stream environment get a little friendlier for wildlife.  With a few breaks from our intrusions, nature will try to repair itself.]