Town stormwater and Orange County emergency management officials expected to sit down Monday to brainstorm potential next steps for addressing repeated floods at an Estes Drive condominium complex.
The town will take those ideas to the Camelot Village Homeowners Association and property managers to see what’s viable, said Matt Sullivan, the town’s interim fire chief and former emergency management coordinator.
Crews have cleared logs and other debris from Bolin Creek multiple times since a 2013 flood, he said, including twice in the last two weeks.
More than 30 condos at Camelot Village and nearby Brookwood were evacuated Dec. 30 after heavy rains pushed Bolin Creek over its banks. The county provided temporary shelter to five families who couldn’t return home, town officials reported; the damage was estimated at nearly $49,000.
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Both complexes have flooded several times in the last 30 years, most recently in June 2013, when 72 of 116 Camelot Village condos were damaged. Brookwood had 51 damaged apartments. Camelot Village HOA President Don Willhoit emailed the town on Jan. 4 asking for help with the problem.
Willhoit’s email included a few suggestions, including negotiating with the town about a potential buyout, building berms, or raised banks, to reroute the floodwaters and improving stormwater culverts under Fordham Boulevard.
Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said she had not seen Willhoit’s email but expects the town will consider all of its options. The town doesn’t have the money to buy and demolish the condos, she said.
Previous efforts to buy the most flood-prone buildings using a federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program failed for a lack of interest, officials said.
More than 30 condos at Camelot Village and nearby Brookwood were evacuated Dec. 30 after Bolin Creek overflowed its banks.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s voluntary program seeks to reduce the number of buildings vulnerable to floods by buying them at fair market value based on a property appraisal. The grant is only available during a disaster declaration, and all of a building’s owners must agree to sell.
Local governments are prohibited from using their power of eminent domain to buy property for grant projects.
Chapel Hill last used a FEMA grant in 2001 to buy and demolish three Dickerson Court homes upstream along Bolin Creek, at the Franklin Street bridge. The FEMA grant paid 75 percent of the cost, and the town picked up the 25 percent match using bond money.
But in 2009, the town had to return $2.3 million to FEMA, because too few Camelot Village owners were interested. Town Manager Roger Stancil, in a letter to the N.C. Division of Emergency Management, said staff either could not locate or did not get a response from eight owners of 11 units.
A second attempt to buy the buildings in 2013 also didn’t work out, Sullivan said. The most recent flood doesn’t qualify, he said.
Willhoit, in his email, said Camelot Village officials contacted condo owners in three buildings after the 2013 flood. All but two owners in one building indicated a willingness to work with the town on a buyout, he said.
“There are several issues that need to be discussed,” said Willhoit, a former long-term Orange County commissioner, “and we are willing to negotiate with the town on the acquisition of these buildings when funds are available.”
He also suggested the town look at adding a berm between the complex and the Chapel Hill Community Center, which sits at a higher elevation.
Management also has seen floodwaters flowing toward Camelot Village from the Brookwood area, Willhoit said. The Fordham Boulevard culverts “are not of sufficient capacity to handle the stream flow during flood conditions,” he said, creating a retention basin between the highway and town park.
Willhoit and other town staff did not return calls seeking additional information. Brookwood management also did not return a call seeking comment.