Tag Archives: Durham Planning Commission

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.