Local News

Raleigh, county at odds over watershed development

Posted March 1, 2010 12:55 p.m. EST
Updated March 1, 2010 6:50 p.m. EST

— Raleigh officials on Monday urged the Wake County Board of Commissioners to reject a proposal that would allow a shopping center to open in the Falls Lake watershed.

The commissioners considered the proposal Monday afternoon before sending it to a committee for more discussion.

The Wake County Planning Board last month approved a plan that would allow developers to convert a lumber yard at the intersection of N.C. Highway 98 and Old Creedmoor Road into a shopping center.

Under the plan, some property owners in the watershed who were given exemptions when the county adopted its Unified Development Ordinance four years ago because their properties didn't meet zoning rules would be given the opportunity to obtain a special-use permit to redevelop the sites.

The plan would open up designated "activity centers" in the watershed to a wider range of uses, including banks, restaurants and bars, according to the Planning Board. Officials estimate the plan would affect no more than 10 properties in the county.

"We believe this proposal is a win-win for water quality and for the citizens of Wake County," Lacy Reaves, an attorney for the developers, told commissioners Monday.

Raleigh City Manager Russell Allen says allowing even one property to redevelop is too many.

Falls Lake is the primary source of drinking water for Raleigh and several Wake County towns. Pollution in the lake has led federal officials to declare it an "impaired" waterway, and state environmental regulators have demanded that a cleanup plan be in place by next January.

Allen said allowing the lumber yard to reopen as a shopping center would set a precedent for other property owners to redevelop their lands for uses not approved in the Unified Development Ordinance. Such development would only add to pollution in the lake, he said.

Requiring property owners to go through the rezoning process for proposed redevelopments would be a better way to handle such requests, Allen said.

Raleigh City Councilwoman Nancy McFarlane told commissioners that several counties and municipalities have been negotiating development rules to follow to limit pollution in Falls Lake, and it wouldn't make sense for Wake County to unleash more development in the watershed.

"We're really asking all of these surrounding municipalities and counties to adhere to these rules that impact our drinking water," McFarlane said. "It's really important that we take the lead in watershed protection."

The Watershed Protection Council, a grassroots group that focuses on improving water quality in Falls Lake, also is opposed to the redevelopment plan, saying it would "create open season for the commercialization of the county's water supply watersheds."

"It's going to be the portal to the decimation of Wake County's leadership in water supply (and) watershed protection," Sherry Johnson, of the Watershed Protection Council, told the commissioners.