Site survey on Carrboro property cleared off too many trees – some residents say


By Fraser Sherman

Having a city contractor tearing out trees on Pathway Drive hardly fits a town declared one of America’s Tree Cities, some residents told Carrboro Town Council last week.

Residents near Carrboro’s Pathway Drive property — a possible town-owned site for affordable housing — say the site evaluation has destroyed too many trees. The photo comes from a video by Clara Zelasky.

Carrboro’s city-owned acreage on Pathway Drive is one of three sites the town is considering for building affordable housing. The city website says that before that happens, the city has to study the property to determine if–and how many–housing units can be built there. The study includes a property survey and geotechnical analysis, which is what brought nearby residents to the March 5 council meeting.

Concerned citizens speak

“They told us they needed to clear a path to complete the geological and soil survey,” Gracewood Place resident Clara Zelasky said, presenting a video that showed a machine digging up dirt and knocking down a tree (visible as part of the council’s streamed meeting, starting at the 37:39 minute mark).

Zelasky said the neighborhood hadn’t received any notification, which created a safety hazard: “Little kids play in this forest. 6-year-olds build forts.”

Zelasky said removing trees worked against the Carrboro comprehensive plan’s stated goal of mitigating the effects of climate change. She said the council needed to consider the environmental impact of developing the site and be more transparent about the project: “I ask you to involve the public and all stakeholders.” For example, Zelasky said, the council could make the engineering report publicly available as soon as the town receives it.

William Stone of Rock Spring Court also objected to having the work done without advance notice. He pointed out that one of the flags outside City Hall marks the community as a Tree City.

“Carrboro apparently values trees,” Stone said. “This land that’s being proposed for development is a mature forest. We understand this town needs affordable housing but I don’t think it has to be at the expense of trees.”

Stone added that while undeveloped, the trees benefit the neighborhood, so the site “is not empty land and it’s not unused land.”

A resident named Sonia played another video (41:31 in the streamed meeting) showing her walking through the woods and indicating where Summit had removed trees. “We already have some flooding,” she said. “this is going to exacerbate it.”

Sonia said her house turns into an island in a river when there’s heavy rain in Carrboro.

The Pathway Plan

The city says Carrboro’s hunt for publicly owned affordable housing sites began eight years ago in partnership with Chapel Hill and Orange County. After a tri-government work group drew up the standards for suitable lots, Carrboro town staff began researching which city-owned land might qualify. The standards ruled some sites out:

  • Land within a conservation easement.
  • There’s no water or sewer nearby.
  • Land designated for another use.
  • Land within a 100-year floodplain,
  • Property that’s completely developed.
  • Land inside a long-term interest area marked for future utility development.
  • Property in a dedicated right of way.
  • Land inside Rural Buffer zoning.

Staff members identified potential affordable housing sites on Crest Street, Hill Street, and Pathway Drive. Carrboro acquired 2.82 acres on Pathway Drive by deed of gift in 1976, when the town approved the last platt in the Webbwood subdivision. Another 3.5 adjacent acres were donated to the city in 1985.

Pee Wee Homes broke ground on the Hill Street parcel in December. There’s no development plan for the Crest Street or Pathway Drive land yet and there won’t be one until after the city’s contractors study soil erosion, define buildable areas, and evaluate the topography to determine what construction is and isn’t possible.

Summit Design and Engineering completed a site survey in February. This month they began the geotechnical study which involves boring into the ground, clearing the property to make room for their equipment, and making an environmental assessment. Once that work wraps up in April, the town will begin a stormwater analysis. If the work stays on track, the city will release its final report in June, including a map/site plan, backup documentation, stormwater models, and development potential.

“We’re on step two,” Mayor Barbara Foushee told Stone, Zelasky, and Sonia at the March 5 meeting. Foushee said with multiple steps in the process ahead, they and their neighbors would have multiple opportunities to engage with the process and share their views.

The town’s FAQ page on the site selection process spells that out in more detail: “Working with a design consultant, the community will be very involved in creating the goals for and design of future development based on information from the site analysis, the comprehensive plan, ongoing community engagement, property factors such as location, unit potential, and other Town priorities such as racial equity and climate action. There will be multiple opportunities for the public to engage in this process and affect the final design of the development. A public hearing(s) will also be held before the Town Council considers final approval.”

The council took no other action. On the FAQ page, the town recommends citizens who want to stay involved with the site selection and review process sign up to receive news and information directly from the Carrboro town government.

Fraser Sherman has worked for newspapers, including the Destin Log, the Pensacola News-Journal and the Raleigh Public Record. Born in England, he’d still live in Florida if he hadn’t met the perfect woman and moved to Durham to marry her. He’s the author of several film reference books and has published one novel and several short story collections.

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