A meeting to talk about the future of flood-prone Camelot Village condos left some residents and owners angry and frustrated.
The town’s previous efforts to buy and demolish some of the buildings failed, owner Richard Kurst said. The town also lacks a plan to help displaced renters find similarly affordable housing in Chapel Hill, he said.
“Camelot is affordable housing, and not only that, it is accessible housing,” Kurst said. “There has been no indication that they would ever be replaced with one-bedroom units that rent for about $500 a month and are accessible to the library, the bank, the post office, like Camelot Village is.”
About 30 percent of the tenants receive Section 8 housing assistance, said Don Willhoit, president of the Camelot Village Homeowners’ Association.
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Mayor Pam Hemminger said she has talked with staff about the options. A buyout may be the only viable solution, she and others said, even if it’s just one building at the complex.
While federal rules prohibit rebuilding in designated flood zones, federal money is available to help displaced residents relocate.
Camelot Village was built in 1967, years before the first flood maps and rules were created. The entire complex sits in a bowl – the floodway – between two floodplains, officials said, and has flooded repeatedly since then. Roughly 10 square miles drains into that part of Bolin Creek, they said.
A June 2013 flood was the worst in memory, many Camelot Village residents said. It damaged 72 of 116 condos, forcing residents to evacuate and many to move away. Another flood in December affected 21 condos, Willhoit said.
Town and county officials met in January to consider their options after Willhoit asked the town for help. Camelot Village’s roughly 80 owners hope last week’s meeting also will generate ideas and a better understanding, Willhoit said.
The former Orange County commissioner has suggested building a berm, or raised bank, between the complex and the Chapel Hill Community Center, which sits at a higher elevation. Another option, he said, is improving a Fordham Boulevard stormwater culvert that may cause the creek to back up.
Those options could make the flooding worse or cause more downstream, state and local officials said.
“(Berms) might be a little bit difficult for us, because one of our bigger reponsibilities is to make sure that in helping folks like you, we’re not causing further harm to other people. If we just walled off Camelot Village so that it didn’t flood anymore, all of that water is still going to go somewhere.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has two programs to help with a buyout, he said. The Hazard Mitigation Grant Program is only available during a disaster, but the Flood Mitigation Assistance Program can be used at any time if properties meet the guidelines.
A federal program could pay between 75 percent and 90 percent of the cost, Crew said. The next deadline is in 60 days, he said, and it would take 18 to 20 months to finish the process.
A FEMA-funded buyout would require every owner of a building to participate and a licensed appraiser to determine the property’s sale price. The town also could use eminent domain, he said, but not with federal money.
“This is not any sort of attempt on the government’s part to come and take your property at flood-sale prices,” Crew said.
Previous buyout efforts – in 2005 and 2013 – failed for a lack of interest, officials said. Willhoit said he was able to get all the owners in two buildings to agree in 2013, but town officials said that came too late for FEMA’s deadline.
Kurst, who owns three units, suggested owners in buildings that don’t regularly flood and who want to sell could swap their units for condos in the flood-prone buildings. He and his wife would be interested in doing that in the future, he said, and taking a FEMA buyout to recoup their investment.
That wouldn’t help owners who Willhoit said are worried about rising HOA dues once some buildings are demolished. The town also should think about how to help owners with the cost of maintaining the road and bridge to Camelot, which also serves surrounding apartment complexes, he said.