Tag Archives: Durham Planning Commission

Some rezoning hearings coming up this August

Below are some comments for the Durham City Council meeting tonight, August 1st, and there will be several other rezoning/annexation hearings this month, including for 4150 Old Chapel Hill Road [, at the corner with Garrett Road, among other sites,] August 9th [this is actually a Planning Commission hearing], and the Courtyards at Farrington Civil War Trails site, by the old [Patterson’s Mill] country store, August 15; see: www.durhamnc.gov/AgendaCenter/City-Council-4 [www.durhamnc.gov/AgendaCenter/Planning-Commission-15 ] There is also a Durham Rail Trail comment period and information about ShotSpotter implementation in the news.


Durham County Utility Building at the corner of Highway 55 and TW Alexander Drive

I mentioned this project in a previous post: www.northeastcreek.org/wordpress/where-the-red-fire-pink-blows-and-other-campions-in-the-triangle/ Neither community consultation meeting provided much information, though I felt somewhat better about participating in the second meeting. I thought the County was buying the site to expand the Triangle Wastewater Treatment Plant, and that is what Planning Commission members seemed to think, yet now it is supposed to be a County administrative building. I think WWTP expansion was denied at the meetings, but I could be mistaken. Given that the site was a large hill, there is probably very hard, possibly igneous, bedrock just under the surface and it would be difficult to build on. The treatment plant was rattled back then, according to the staff, and there might be the possibility of damage from renewed blasting. The area is “culturally significant” for me, and presumably for the people who once lived there, and it wasn’t merely clearcut – a large, wooded hill was blasted away night and day more than 10 years ago to build something like 540, with the remainder reportedly being dumped in the abandoned claypit across 55, now acres of mass grading at “55-Hopson” and most likely the reason Northeast Creek is quite opaque yellow at the Grandale Road bridge.

It would be good to preserve the old farmpond on the County site, where I have seen people fishing, which relates to the Community Goals and Objectives about food, accessibility, etc., though those people were probably displaced by the Council’s friends at the nearby Social Security Administration printing facility, as they have tried to do to me. These are apparently still publically-owned roads and the SSA doesn’t own any land south of the railroad tracks, on “Experiment Drive.”

I don’t know that there are any rare species on the County land now, but rare plants grow very close by and red fire pinks, seemingly very rare in Durham, grew just beyond the property lines and probably still grow somewhere in the vicinity. They might like the new openness of the site. Buttercups have been common in the still mostly treeless field where the wooded hill once was. Given that the field doesn’t seem to be mowed, is it treeless after about a decade because there is very little soil? It seems like potential open habitat for meadowlarks, a bird in decline in North Carolina.

The landscaping of an administrative building and the naming could relate to the ‘flavor’ of the local area and/or areas not built on could be managed in a way beneficial for plants such as fire pinks, but that is not addressed at community consultation meetings and probably not at Council hearings. If the site is rocky and denuded of topsoil, it might also be difficult to landscape conventionally and might require more water than usual to sustain lawn grasses and ornamentals. The Main Library had an example of probably xeric herb gardening at the entrance. A large area of mown lawn, with the lake across 55 at the WWTP, would probably attract Canada geese, possibly onto the roads.

This is also a gateway to Durham, formerly with trees and April-blooming blackberries. Other woods were cut on the north side of TW Alexander for a residential area recently and there was a residential rezoning of the old house east of the County site, another area with some wildflowers, mainly early spring woodland species, as well as some ornamental roses, though there is also invasive Vinca minor. Water from the County site drains both north and south, possiby mainly north, so where would the stormwater pond be located? The State Employees’ Credit Union branch a short distance north at the corner of 54 and Alston seems like a good example of stormwater retention pond landscaping, also attracting flocks of geese.

The farmpond drains into a clear, rocky small stream. Despite the small size of the waterway it apparently doesn’t dry up completely during the summer and so supports sunfish of some kind, possibly somewhat rare salamanders, and an abundance of crayfish, as well as having waterfalls over the igneous rock and many wildflowers.

Light pollution from the County site and 55-Hopson would impact the large area of gameland along Northeast Creek on the other side of 55. Would there be large parking lots for County vehicles, lit all night? Again I can’t remember what was said at the meetings about the storage of County equipment; maybe there won’t be storage there. Lit-up parking lots could be a hazard for migrating birds. There seem to be a lot of moths in the area, which would be adversely impacted by adding more lights. Annual National Moth Week was just a last week.

What about chemical spills near Northeast Creek, including road salt and oil or gasoline from County equipment? There might be few beaver ponds in the area to intercept a spill before it reaches the main Creek.

What does 55-Hopson plan to build across 55 near the County site? They voluntarily renounced some uses at 55-Hopson – except along 55, so what are they planning? The government allowed a text-only development plan, so there is no way of knowing now without a whistleblower, and there was just a whistleblower appreciation week. I am observing and will report any possible violations. After recent rains Northeast Creek is very opaque and yellow at Grandale Road from some source, and the hundreds or thousands of people using the Tobacco Trail every week must see it as well. Unlike in other nearby towns the land in southern Durham County seems to bleed readily when mass graded, and everyone can see.

In addition, local government wants to increase traffic on Grandale, and the DOT sprayed herbicide all over, but there is still a danger that someone will be hit by a vehicle at the narrow bridge. Given the the area is already dangerous and a known corridor for wildlife, why do the DCHCMPO’s planners think increasing traffic is a good idea?

It might be good to have an access to the County site on Experiment Drive, unless the County brings in security contractors/domestic mercenaries who behave like the SSA’s, I’m not going to be “displaced.” I think that is where the driveway to the farmhouse on the hill once was. Maybe 55-Hopson will bring over-zealous faceless corporate entity security contractors even closer, in addition to the vigilantes and the policing establishment.


East Cornwallis

Regarding East Cornwallis, from the aerial photo it does seem to be a residential area, or residential adjacent to industrial, though I didn’t know there were Cannabis growing operations in Durham. A car dealership would probably be very bright at night and there would be few trees buffering it, judging by the larger dealerships near Southpoint. On the other hand the site might already be very lit up if there are greenhouses nearby. What about the risk of oil and other toxic spills in the headwaters of Northeast Creek? A car dealership would probably heat up the surrounding area. Climate change is contributing to unusual heat waves, fires, floods, and crop losses filling the news around the world this year, but cutting trees and paving the land will increase local heating quickly and increase electricity demand. Someone commented at the community meeting about the need for sidewalks there, which is probably a good idea.

As with Hopson-55 the Morningstar Law Group is saying that they renounce some uses, leaving unclear what the intention is, though in this case it is a much smaller area and not on the edge of Durham, next to parkland. Too late to comment on Hopson-55 I heard that bobcats and coyotes have been seen adjacent, but it isn’t clear if they will still be there in a few years. I also began to worry about how much earthmoving is envisioned along 55, where there no commitments were made. Has the small area north of the powerline been cleared? They even offered not to build there at the Planning Commission meetiing if not at the City Council hearing, but it was not made a committed element, so did they clear it anyway, and for what purpose? Was all that land clearcut to create biomass fuel for European powerplants? This fuel source has been condemned by some groups. There is what looks like a very large chipper installed across from the construction entrance.


Garrett Road/751

On Garrett Road the application is for only a few townhomes, but paying a fee-in-lieu of open space requirements doesn’t sound good. While there is a vast area of what I assume is protected New Hope Creek floodplain “encumbrance” around the site, if animals need upland areas as well, those have probably largely been built on, as shown in the aerial photo. My impression is that most City or County parks are for things like athletic use, rather than to protect land that would otherwise be built on. There are parks in the Triangle that are supposed to have Catesby’s trilliums in the spring, but I have long wondered why there aren’t any in my area. If they prefer the dry uplands maybe they were plowed under by agriculture and building long ago, though for some reason not in northern Durham and Orange counties.

I expect there is a long history of people living along Garret Road, similar to how people long lived along Fayetteville Road, but they left in recent decades and the old houses have since been razed or covered up. There are also obviously thousands of years of human habitation buried in the ground, and maybe it is a matter of who knows what is buried where and a bulldozer operator probably won’t notice what gets scooped up.


The Courtyards at Farrington

Regarding the Courtyards at Farrington, coming up at the August 15th Council meeting, how can Durham allow the destruction of what is apparently the only Civil War battleground in Durham, with historic buildings, part of the national Civil War Trail and probably with designated historic buildings? What is the exact nature of the Civil War Trail designations on Farrington and at Leigh Farm, cut through by I-40? It reminds me of the NC NHP reports in relation to 55-Hopson. I saw a meadowlark near Farrington Road once, so they could be present on this grassy old farm. Unlike 100′ of woods on Farrington Road, the large hill on the County site probably did block a lot of traffic noise.

Protect the gamelands along the Durham-Chatham-Wake county line

I’m not sure that it was printed anywhere, but below is a letter I sent to newspapers about what is planned in the Highway 55 to Grandale Road area. The agenda for the City Council Zoom meeting this Monday starting at 7pm has been posted at durhamnc.gov/AgendaCenter/City-Council-4/ Clicking on the NC55 and Hopson agenda item brings up the associated documents. I just started looking at the updated materials for this second hearing, but the main change seems to be a written commitment not to use some parts of the site for certain types of facilities apparently allowed under Industrial Light (IL) zoning. The site is made up of several parcels, and certain uses would be prohibited on four parcels the applicant wants rezoned from residential and commercial to IL, while the large area near 55 already zoned IL would have no special prohibitions. There have been indications that the applicant might not intend to build at the very northwest corner of the site, overlooking Northeast Creek and close to Audubon Park, but there are no commitments and there is still no indication of where the 1 million square feet of “industrial buildings” would be placed, and presumably the most likely impervious “parking and loading areas” are not included in the above figure and will sprawl over a large area and extend Durham’s heat island south.

Very little has been done to prevent encroachments on the environmentally vital land ‘owned’ and both passively and actively used by the public. I have doubts that the NC Natural History Program recommendations have mattered much in what has happened at this end of Durham County and instead of protecting what remains it seems likely that there will be new roads, Grandale will become busier if not wider, new utility easements and infrastructure seem likely, and construction of some density will extend up to the edges of the gameland on all sides. If housing is soon built along Grandale, where are the utilities going to be located? Species that live in the gameland today might be driven out by impacts from NC55-Hopson and the roads, along with human users of the gameland. The government bodies managing the gameland can’t or won’t give Durham a strong warning that what it plans to do could have serious consequences for public property and water quality. There are obviously limits to their authority, but they don’t seem interested in defending the public interest as long as road construction, etc. is not on the Federal land, even if it is right next to it, and it seems obvious that there will be work on Grandale impacting the adjacent gameland if new roads are built. The environment has become a common talking point in political campaigns, such as in the elections this year, but these piece meal land use changes add up create the environmental problems that then seem possibly too big to fix, such as climate change, mass extinction, and local flooding. For what it is worth I will at least comment in writing on all of these proposals, and I commented on the DCHCMPO’s 2050 transportation plan (the comment period ended February 1st).

A young forest of mostly loblolly pines around 20′ tall, along with some tuliptrees, wax myrtles or bayberries, etc. has regenerated on the clearcut Triangle Brick Co. land in question and a grid of small roads was recently bulldozed for detailed surveying up to the powerline and close to Audubon Park. Scannell must have plans, but nothing has been revealed to the public, except that they have been planning to start the first stage of construction this spring. Each facility would take about 9 months to build and construction would extend over 3-4 years, with an announced total of around 5-6 buildings. It is a somewhat remote area, but people will no doubt watch for silt management violations if this goes ahead. I have observed for Firefly Watch ( www.massaudubon.org/get-involved/community-science/firefly-watch ) in the area for over 10 years, so I might be able to see how new light pollution effects the firefly population. I’m not sure what zoning large greenhouses fall under, but there isn’t a commitment not to build them here and there are a few at similar research or manufacturing facilities in and around Research Triangle Park. Grandale is a good dark location for stargazing, but I’m not sure that it is far enough from light pollution to be that much better than easier to get to locations in southern Durham County, and light pollution to some degree obscures the stars over much of the world and is hard to escape.

At the Planning Commission hearing a neighbor, I think in nearby Audubon Park, mentioned seeing a bald eagle, and a week ago [actually the snow was two weeks ago] I went to the vicinity and there an eagle was, conspicuously flying around and loudly calling from the top of a tall snag. I saw two or more wood ducks in the Creek closer to Grandale, and as usual I didn’t know they were there until they shrieked and swiftly flew downstream. On a brushy hillside a woodcock suddenly flushed, seemingly from a sunny patch free of snow at the base of an oak. Maybe the males can be seen displaying around twilight here and there might even already be eggs. I have seen turkey tracks here before and I think chuck-will’s-widows or whip-poor-wills have nested recently in this part of Durham. Grasses such as broomsedge and Indian grass, along with the seedheads of last year’s mullein, teasel, vervain, asters, goldenrods, cattails, and other wildflowers (some introduced in this case) are evident under the powerline, while the stalks of grasses such as river oats nod in the woods. A Polypodium fern grows on an ash leaning over a sharp bend of the Creek. In a younger part of the bottomland forest a few very large loblollies linger while the area closest to Grandale is mostly deciduous. It seemed like there weren’t a lot of tracks in the snow, but the signs of small birds, small rodents and maybe shrews, beavers, deer, squirrels, possibly foxes, etc. were visible. Snow covered the tire tracks, but it seems like there is still some prohibited ATV activity on the gameland, though the Wildlife Resources Commission or the Army Corps of Engineers have taken steps to discourage them. There were spiky white ice crystals on moss and lichen-covered boulders and where the snow had begun to melt the day before. Red-headed woodpeckers were very conspicuous in an area of sloughs against a hillside with many beech and there were various sparrows, cardinals, towhees, wrens, and other songbirds out in the bottomlands.

I heard a few gulls flying overhead, possibly going to nearby Parkwood Lake. The Lake was mostly frozen over, and mallards, Canada geese, cormorants, gulls, and a small flock of what seemed to be ruddy ducks, the first time I have seen this species here, had gathered in the unfrozen area by the dam. An Eastern phoebe and myrtle or yellow-rumped warblers were foraging amid the willows in a swampy part of the frozen Lotus Pond near the trail. Later I saw a small hawk and heard a flock of cedar waxwings along Clermont there. Near the pool birds I couldn’t identify were searching the branchtips at the tops of shortleaf pines. I heard a few yellow-bellied sapsuckers, I think all in built-up areas. Near Parkwood’s giant white ash a garrulous red-winged blackbirds have been frequenting bamboo groves and I think I saw the conspicuous resident hawk pair mating a few days ago. It seems like there have been few owl calls and the deer have been scarce this winter, possibly because of the new trail through the woods from Seaton to McCormick, though I did see a buck with pretty large antlers in January. The trail’s bare yellow clay turned to mud as the snow melted. I realized that there is second colony of what must be dwarf pawpaws near the Fire Station.

Back on the gameland, for decades I have known a beaver pond, for many years mostly a marshy abandoned beaver pond that still holds some water, and I was surprised to find that it has been restored to almost its former state. I don’t remember there being a lodge before, or not conspicuously, the beavers instead seeming to live in a burrow, but now there is prominent lodge towards the back. The pond has been a breeding site for amphibians and fish such as American toads, cricket frogs, bowfin, and sunfish, and though it isn’t particularly large, migrating waterfowl and shorebirds sometimes visit. Mistletoe is conspicuous on the bare limbs of some of the surrounding red maples. Herons, red-headed woodpeckers, and no doubt birds that use their abandoned nests have nested nearby, but I’m not sure if there are still adequate large snags. I heard that some other ponds have also been restored recently, so there is some positive news that what was lost has returned, at least for a time.

February 7th there will also be hearings on the proposed Bull City Townhomes, at the corner of Ellis Road and Southern Drive, near Rada Drive and Ed Cook Road, north of RTP, in the upper Northeast Creek basin, and a hearing on 3602 Westminster Avenue, in the Neuse River basin.


Protect the gamelands along the Durham-Chatham-Wake county lin

February 7th the City Council will hold a second hearing on the rezoning of an area extending from east of 55 to within sight of Grandale Road for a research/manufacturing-type “business park,” with Hopson Road extended west. Hopson and Grandale extensions are included in Amendment #4 to the DCHCMPO’s Comprehensive Transportation Plan, accepting comments through February 22nd (links at northeastcreek.org).

This rural section includes a large area of protected public land. The Northeast Creek bottomlands’ significance was recognized by the NC Natural Heritage Program, which recommended the “Preservation of upland buffers” and a moratorium on new utility corridors there.

Despite the parkland, species could still be lost. The rezoning application considers the State gameland only a “buffer.” There is no public site plan and industrial light zoning allows many uses. If large greenhouses are built, reflected light would be obvious for miles, likewise with blasting and traffic noise. What of spills? Hundreds of fireflies of several species glimmer, gathered amphibians roar, and herons, nightjars, and likely turkeys have nested nearby. If hunting ends, will deer overpopulate? I would like consideration for the welfare of this valuable, public land. Additionally, the claypit has paleontological significance. I suspect that rezoning would trigger more land sales, like the boom (of moonscaping) along Ellis.

Durham claims to care about emissions, but plans to level ridges for a redundant road. Nearby roads already seem unsafe and Grandale threatens wildlife, which the government knows. Does the Council need to see the roadkill from a short stretch?

The Planning commission vote on 55-Hopson

At the Tuesday, October 12th meeting the Planning Commission voted 12-0 against recommending the Industrial Light rezoning around the intersection of Hopson Road and 55, bordering RTP and extending west, south across Northeast Creek from several communities.  Members of the public had about 3 minutes each to comment and a few neighbors and I spoke. As I recall the comments were generally questions or negative on the proposed rezoning and there were not any ringing endorsements.  I  wasn’t the only person to bring up light pollution and I think noise was an issue at the community consultation meeting in January if not on the 12th.  One or more neighbors mentioned concern for wildlife, and mentioned seeing a bald eagle in their yard, but without noting that the adjacent gameland was inventoried by the NC Natural Heritage Program as an important natural area in Durham County and greater Jordan Lake that ideally should not be disturbed further and is also used for hunting and fishing.  There was a proposal to move to a text-only development plan addressing some of the concerns brought up at the hearing, to be heard again in 60 days, but the original application was voted upon in the end.  Despite this negative recommendation by the Commission the proposed rezoning could soon go to City Council.  So far nothing has been announced. 

The applicant said that their plan is to build a business park housing valuable biomedical companies, but I wonder if the research and development component of an Industrial Light zoning would allow large greenhouses, similar to those on TW Alexander Drive and Davis Drive.  When there are low clouds light reflected from large greenhouses is conspicuous for miles and when it is clear the light isn’t so obvious but still contributes to light pollution obscuring the night sky over the Triangle.  Humanity has been able to look up and see the Milky Way as well as other galaxies for thousands of years,  but I’m not sure if I have ever been able to see our greater galaxy from the Triangle or anywhere. An Industrial Light zoning allows many uses, including warehouses, recycling centers, junkyards, wholesale trade, etc.  Some of these uses would probably increase windbown litter, traffic, noise, and air pollution. 

Would there be a risk of hazardous material spills?  Early in the applicant’s presentation to the Commission the relatively large distance between this site and neighborhoods to the north was compared with the distance between the nearby Triangle Wastewater Treatment Plant on 55 and the neighborhoods.  Not so long ago the Triangle Wastewater Treatment Plant used chlorine for disinfection, leaving Northeast Creek with a chlorinated smell far downstream, so presumably there was a supply of chlorine gas on site.  If there had been a leak houses were probably dangerously nearby and today houses have been built even closer.  The rezoning application predicts additional residential building just west of the site, along Grandale.  It should also be noted that while houses are relatively far, Northeast Creek is very close to parts of the site and is the reason there is a buffer of forest between the site and the north neighborhoods. 

Besides whatever noise would come from the construction and operation of whatever is built, a large area would hear and maybe feel the blasting and earthmoving necessary to cut through the ridge at the corner of 55 and Hopson and other hills for a new road. The DOT would probably want a road similar to Hopson, which has four divided lanes cutting through a ridge on the east side of 55.  Earlier this month the BBC talked about the climate change impact of new building construction, and here is a plan to build a major new road when there are already roads connecting 55 to Grandale. Ignoring the impact on wildlife, would a new road significantly reduce traffic on existing roads and would that be the end of major road building along Northeast Creek at the very south margin of Durham County? A railroad, which is probably less carbon-intensive than trucking, is on the other side of 55 from the majority of the site.  Local governments claim to be trying to reduce Durham’s contributions to climate change. 

There is very little information about what would actually be built and where and the opportunity for regular public input ends once the City Council approves a rezoning.