Chapel Hill drafts Brownfields Agreement to address coal ash under Police headquarters


By Adam Powell

As the Town of Chapel Hill seeks to remediate a coal ash issue underneath the longtime Police Headquarters building at 828 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., the municipality has drafted a Brownfields Agreement. The agreement specifies future remediation plans for the site and determines any future uses for the property that will be allowed by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ).

“The Town of Chapel Hill is considering a redevelopment plan for Town-owned land at 828 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., the current site of the Chapel Hill Police Department headquarters,” read a town statement on the Brownfields Agreement draft (

The Brownfields Agreement can be read via online through the NCDEQ by entering the project number (23022-19-068) into the search bar at the following website:

According to a June 14 decision memorandum submitted by Chapel Hill staff to the NCDEQ, the 10.24-acre Brownfields property is currently zoned R-2 residential, allowing for four units per acre. The surrounding area is a mixture of dense residential apartments that largely serve the UNC community, along with multiple nearby businesses, including Lloyd Tire and Run-In-Jim’s gas station/convenience store at 800 MLK Blvd.

The draft agreement specifies that the town will not be allowed to put any future housing on the site once the Police Headquarters building is demolished.

According to the town’s website, approved uses for the site include a municipal services center, a recreational space, municipal parking, and a potential transit access terminal for bus or light rail. Any approved use will be subject to extensive coal ash remediation that will be carefully monitored and signed off on by NCDEQ.

“The Town initially evaluated a combined municipal service center with retail and high-density residential with a portion of affordable housing for this site,” reads the town’s decision memorandum to NCDEQ. “The town has since decided to forego residential use in favor of redeveloping the Brownfields Property with a municipal service center to replace the current police station that is situated on the Brownfields Property and continued recreational use.”

Town documents indicate that the 828 MLK Blvd. site was owned by a man named Richard W. Sparrow, who, in the 1950s and early 1960s, implemented the location as a borrow pit. A borrow pit is a term used in civil and construction engineering to describe a site where earthen materials are pulled from the ground, creating a crevice and utilized elsewhere.

Eventually, by the mid-1960s, Sparrow reportedly began utilizing the borrow pit to fill in materials from construction sites, including wood, metals, and concrete, and then utilized coal combustion products (CCP) to fill the crevice structurally. This practice was not illegal at the time, although it today constitutes a major environmental violation and local concern. According to town documents, the CCP materials actually originated from power generation facilities on the UNC campus. The Town of Chapel Hill purchased the Brownfields Property in 1980.

When the Chapel Hill Police Headquarters was initially constructed on the site more than 40 years ago, the facility was built above Bolin Creek on an elevated portion of the land. According to town documents, Bolin Creek forms the southern boundary of the Brownfields property and is classified as nutrient-sensitive waters (NSW) because it eventually pushes water into Jordan Lake, the area’s primary drinking water source, via Little Creek.

The town’s website explains that 828 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. was the site of coal ash and construction debris infill from the 1960s and 1970s before the Town took ownership of the property through eminent domain.

The timeline for drafting the Brownfields Agreement on a formal level goes back approximately a year and a half. In March 2023, the town council approved the conception of a plan to redevelop the 828 MLK Blvd. site. Town leaders and planning staff began initial communication with NCDEQ officials in the summer of 2023 on language for a Brownfields agreement draft.

Then in September, the council adopted a resolution that allowed town manager Chris Blue to move forward with finding a new location for the Chapel Hill Police Department. CHPD ultimately chose the former Blue Cross/Blue Shield Building at 1830 Fordham Boulevard to relocate for the next several years, until a final solution can be determined on a permanent new CHPD Headquarters facility.

The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the EPA to declare the site a Superfund site, which was officially denied in May 2024. This set the stage for the Brownfields Agreement to proceed.

Local residents have until June 30 to review the Brownfields Agreement and provide public input to Chapel Hill town leaders and NCDEQ officials. NCDEQ will accept written comments through June 30. Public comments can be submitted to the following:

Bruce Nicholson, Chief
Brownfields Redevelopment Section
Division of Waste Management
NC Department of Environmental Quality
1646 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1646

Residents may also attend an upcoming public hearing on the matter. Along with the opportunity to send written public comments to NCDEQ, the date and time for that particular meeting are as yet undetermined, as the Chapel Hill town council is currently on summer break. Town staff will publicize that meeting in advance.

Adam Powell is a reporter on local news and sports and an education communications professional. A 2001 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, Powell has served as managing editor of multiple local publications, including the Mebane Enterprise, News of Orange County and The public information officer for Rockingham County Schools in Eden, N.C., Powell is the author of four books and lives in Mebane with his wife and two children. This reporter can be reached at Info@TheLocal

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