Laura Jaramillo’s front yard turns into a huge lake every time it rains.
Kimberly Hernandez watches as babies splash and play at West Point on the Eno, wondering whether the water will soon be unsafe for them to do so.
Mary Sule fears that the thousands of hours she and fellow Eno River Association volunteers spent protecting the Eno will go to waste if the river is degraded.
These were a few of the worries expressed at a public hearing Thursday night by 26 citizens who spoke out against a large development proposed at Black Meadow Ridge, an area just south of West Point on the Eno city park. Developer Terramor Homes hopes to build about 400 housing units in the area.
“This development puts a huge environmental and financial stress on North Durham residents,” Jaramillo said.
Ten people spoke in support of the development, including five who are involved with Terramor Homes’ project. Supporters said that the project would enable hundreds of new families to come enjoy Durham—and the Eno. The hearing was conducted by the state Division of Water Resources, which is weighing whether or not to grant the project a permit under the federal Clean Water Act.
“This development parallels the growth of the city of Durham,” said Pastor Ronnie Northam Jr. of Faith Community Church, which borders the Eno. “It’s a game changer.”
According to Rick Trone of the N.C. Division of Water Resources, the project will result in almost 16,000 square feet of permanent riparian buffer loss. Riparian buffers are areas that border streams and protect water quality by reducing erosion and filtering pollution.
Opponents pointed out that the Black Meadow Ridge area was identified in the city’s 2018 Critical Areas Protection Plan as a “keystone” parcel that should be protected.
They also expressed concern over the increase in impervious surfaces that will result from the development. Impervious surfaces are hard areas, like roofs and parking lots, that force water to run off until it reaches a storm drain or body of water. Residents of the nearby Argonne Hills neighborhood said more runoff can mean more flooding.
“We’ve got more flooding than we can handle as it is,” said John Lloyd. “There’s already too much pressure.”
Runoff can also collect pollution, other speakers said. “The development will bring more cars, lawns, parking lots, pet waste, fertilizer, pesticides and oil,” Nick Tansey said. “It will run off newly paved surfaces and nosedive the quality of the river.”
Preston Royster, a designer for the project, said the project has been designed in order to minimize environmental harm and other negative effects.
“The development meets all local stormwater ordinances and won’t result in flooding,” he said.
“Our clients are doing everything over and above what they need to do to be in compliance with the regulations,” added Bob Zarzecki, a consultant on the project.
But opponents of the proposed development argued that compliance with regulations is not enough.
“This plan might be above and beyond,” said Cathy Lewis. “But it’s above and beyond old standards. We have climate change. This plan follows the letter of the law, but it doesn’t follow the spirit of the law.”
Ryan Vu said the plans fail to take into account other new developments in the area, such as the nearby new Northern High School under construction on 227 acres near the Eno. Once the school is complete, opponents pointed out, it will add to the impervious surface in the area, contributing to more runoff.
Several members of nearby Faith Community Church spoke in favor of the project.
“As a member of the church, I think a new subdivision with more people will assist the church in reaching the masses,” said Carena Lemons.
Alexander Fields also praised the project as a way to bring people to Faith Community Church. “It’s a catalyst to help people find Christ, community and financial freedom.”
Opponents of the development also acknowledged the need for growth. Tansey said, “We definitely need more housing—but there are few worse places to develop it than here.”
Hernandez agreed, saying the park provides a clean, inexpensive space where families feel welcome and safe.
“The Hispanic population often doesn’t have access to this kind of forum,” Hernandez said. “I can’t speak for everyone, but the people I know and the families I have spoken to are definitely against this.”
Information about the online hearing was not widely disseminated, several speakers said. Additionally, many who had registered for the hearing were unable to join.
Douglas Dowden of the N.C. Division of Water Resources stated that the department will accept written comments until 5 p.m. on February 21. Equal weight will be given to written comments as to the oral comments voiced during the hearing, he said. No additional public hearings are scheduled for the project, but comments can be submitted by email to PublicComments@ncdenr.gov.
Dowden said he will make a recommendation to Danny Smith, director of the Division of Water Resources, based on public comments and input by Division of Water Resources staff.
Smith will then make the final determination, considering the written record, Dowden’s recommendation, and any concerns expressed by other commissioners, Dowden said.
The stakes are high.
Proponents of the development spoke excitedly of what they see as an opportunity for necessary growth. “This area has to grow if you expect to bring in more money and develop these communities,” said Christine Lutterloh.
Opponents spoke in anxious tones as they called upon the Division of Water Resources to deny the proposal.
“West Point is a jewel and it will be horribly damaged by this development,” Jennifer Nygard said, her voice shaking.
“Green spaces like West Point won’t continue to exist if we keep eating away at their edges like this,” Tansey said. “We have the responsibility right now, me and you, to protect the one that we have some say in—the one close to home for us.
“The Eno River is the inheritance you can leave to my generation.”