Town leaders here have expressed an interest in expanding into the noncritical portion of the Little River watershed, but it first must be determined whether or not that is feasible.
And how long that may take is up in the air.
“I don’t have a good answer to that question,” said Kenny Waldroup, assistant public utilities director for the City of Raleigh. “We’ve been asking ourselves that.”
Waldroup and Wake County Planning, Development and Inspections Director Tim Maloney gave the Zebulon Town Board an overview in August of proposed amendments to the Interlocal Agreement between the county, Raleigh, Wake Forest, Wendell and Zebulon. The purpose of the 2008 agreement was to protect the surface water for the location of a future reservoir by regulating the amount and types of development allowed in the Little River watershed.
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The ILA allows for the most environmentally protective types of residential development in both the watershed’s critical (inner) and noncritical (outer) areas, but it prohibits nonresidential development outside six areas that have been identified as activity centers – essentially commercial crossroads.
The agreement also prohibits extending utilities into the watershed, and towns from annexing into the watershed.
Recent development requests – like church expansions, a county park, a solar farm and telecommunications tower – triggered city and county officials to reconsider the terms of the agreement.
“That’s caused some angst and tension within that area,” said Waldroup, who is also vice-chairman of the Zebulon Planning Board. “The idea was to reduce or relax some of the restrictions on some of those activities, and in exchange permanently freeze the number and size of the urban activity centers.”
All ILA parties have now seen the proposed changes and Wake County approved them Sept. 6. If approved by remaining members, which have shown general support of the changes, the new agreement would:
▪ Allow parks, fire/EMS/law enforcement stations, telecommunications facilities and solar farms outside an activity center;
▪ Allow for public/civic uses located outside an activity center and that were established prior to the 2008 agreement to expand;
▪ Prohibit the creation of new activity centers and the expansion of existing centers;
▪ Commit to studying municipal expansion into the watershed.
Desire to grow
Zebulon and Rolesville have both shown interest in exploring the possibility of expanding into the watershed. Rolesville was not an original ILA member, but has an open invitation to join the agreement and has been a part of the discussion, Waldroup said.
Mayor Bob Matheny said Zebulon’s interest was boosted by the delayed construction of a reservoir.
Waldroup told Zebulon leaders, like he had told Wendell’s in July, that other options for meeting the region’s water demands were being considered because the reservoir project would disrupt wetlands. The top alternative could delay the need for the reservoir until 2030.
“When we entered the agreement, we were of the opinion and being told at that time that it was imminent (the reservoir) was going to be built,” Matheny said. “Now we don’t know whether its going to be built or not.
“We want to go back and look and see if there is a way we can extend utilities into the watershed and develop into that area so it is part of our city limits rather than saying it’s off limits forever.”
Matheny said the town is willing to develop the land at lower densities and would be willing to enact special impervious surface conditions and standards to be able to enter the outer shell of the watershed.
“It’s a major area right adjacent to our city limits,” Matheny said.
Taking another look
Waldroup said for the past eight years it has been a working assumption, from Raleigh’s standpoint, that urbanizing the watershed was not an option because doing so would endanger the ability to permit and build the reservoir.
“We’re going to explore what are the boundaries, review the science and the literature around that assumption to see if we can refine our findings,” Waldroup said. “We’re going to go back and look at this and see if what we thought was true eight years ago was still true today.
Matheny expects the Town Board to adopt the amendments at their Monday, Oct. 3 meeting.
As for the expansion study, Waldroup said the county and city officials would report back to the governing bodies with their findings and opinions at some point in the future.
“If we (knew now), then we could tell the elected folks now,” he said. “That’s the purpose of exploring.”