Preserving Our Rural Character


Guest Column by Livy Ludington and Margaret Brown

Whether you drive from Chatham County to Chapel Hill on 15-501 or Smith Level Road, you pass green fields and wooded areas that remain intact because the urban services boundary does not extend that far. This intentional planning to preserve a rural buffer outside the town limits is the result of careful planning by the Chapel Hill Town Council and the Orange County Commissioners.

The Chapel Hill Southern Entryway Alliance, SEA, is dedicated to preserving the rural character of southern Chapel Hill along 15-501, Smith Level Road and surrounding areas. We are a group of citizens living in the southern portion of Orange County who became concerned when we learned that the Chamber of Commerce was advocating the extension of water and sewer into the area in order to encourage new development.

In January 2019 the town staff proposed land use changes that, if approved by the town council, would bring high-density residential apartments and condos, commercial spaces and public/affordable housing to our area.

We asked the Town Council to slow down and to consider the environmental and aesthetic impacts of taking steps that will lead to overdevelopment. The town responded with a public meeting held in April in Southern Village to hear from both residents and the development community.

People who live in this area, many of whom have lived there for decades, questioned why the town would destroy wildlife habitat, denigrate water quality and change the ambiance of the southern entryway. The Chamber of Commerce, homebuilders and developers advocated extending water and sewer lines to encourage affordable housing. That meeting was recorded and is available to watch on our website at

For now, the Chapel Hill Town Council has agreed to put the extension of water and sewer on the back burner. We applaud this move because we support the continuance of the joint land-use plan that established a rural buffer and urban services boundaries. This land-use plan has stood the test of time by fighting sprawl along 15-501 and surrounding areas, as well as protecting the Fan Branch and Obey Creek watersheds.

We oppose the request by developers to extend water, sewer and other city services along 15-501 to the Chatham County line.

Members of SEA posed four questions to candidates running for Chapel Hill Town Council and the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. Although we are primarily concerned with the southern area of Orange County, we are also concerned about the community at large. We asked the candidates to describe what is unique about our towns, if growth pays for itself, what character our southern entryway should portray and how they defined affordable housing.

We appreciate the time that each candidate put into answering our questions and hope their answers will help citizens decide which candidates to support.

The issues can be seen on our website:

Livy Ludington and Margaret Brown are members of the Southern Entryway Alliance.

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3 Comments on "Preserving Our Rural Character"

  1. Thank you for drawing attention to this matter. I have been greatly disturbed by the high-density housing complexes going up along what used to be called 15-501 By-pass. I feel like I’m driving through a big city rather than a village. Aesthetics should be more highly prioritized if quality of life is to be maintained in this desirable area.

  2. I couldn’t find the questions and answers mentioned.

  3. Deborah Fulghieri | November 3, 2019 at 10:31 pm | Reply

    The southern bit of the rural buffer drains into University Lake (our drinking water) and Jordan Lake (Apex’s, Cary’s, and if needed, Chapel Hill’s drinking water). The sewage treatment plant next to Finley Golf Course has been flooded several times in recent storms, with storm water overtopping and flowing into the sewers along Morgan Creek, overwhelming the treatment ponds. When flooded out of control, the plant releases untreated sewage into Jordan Lake. Orange Water and Sewer (OWASA) has already paid fines for such releases.
    There is private profit to be made building in the rural buffer, but the costs are socialized among OWASA customers and property owners subject to flooding downstream. I wish the town’s paid staff planners would consider existing residents, homeowners, and tax payers, and consult with OWASA, but they do not.

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