Public input: Durham's future development

Advocacy, Environmental, Neuse River Watershed, Stormwater Issues, Water Quality

Posted on August 24th, 2023

A tributary of Lick Creek bleeds red soil into the impaired waterway after a rain.

The public has a chance to weigh in on the next 30 years of development laid out in Durham’s City/County Comprehensive Plan at a special joint city/county public hearing. Development in the Lick Creek watershed (the area in Durham currently being most heavily developed) will be discussed. The plan can be read here.

The hearing will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 31. The agenda and how to join the meeting virtually via Zoom can be found here.

Neuse Riverkeeper Samantha Krop has shared her thoughts on what residents should be asking for and why below:

Clean-water talking points for public input on Durham’s Comprehensive Plan and urban growth boundary

What we’d like to see in the Durham City/County Comprehensive Plan

  • A pause on future development rezonings in heavily impacted areas like Lick Creek until stronger environmental protections are adopted.
  • Ensuring the city’s environmental rules are being followed and exceptions are not being made for wealthy developers. 
  • Forward-thinking planning and smart growth! Ensure that new housing doesn’t come at the expense of community members, the environment and waterways by passing stronger protections for creeks, important wetland habitat and communities. We need responsible development.

Why this matters:

  • While Durham prides itself in having strong environmental protections, these protections often do not get implemented on the ground. More than 100,000 square feet of variances, stream impacts and buffer encroachments (cutting down trees and shrubs on the banks) can be approved for just a single developer on one parcel of land. This means that those strong environmental protections on paper are not actually protecting our waterways in practice. Big developers should not be given carte blanche to break the rules and impact streams and wetlands.
  • The Lick Creek watershed in southeast Durham has been significantly impacted by recent land clearing and developments. An unprecedented number of large-scale developments have come to this area, and created severe sedimentation pollution in waterways and wetlands leading to Lick Creek. The sediment pollution in Lick Creek is a cautionary tale that demands attention and action of Durham’s decision-makers. Without stronger protections in place for our waterways, we will see even worse water-quality impacts. 
  • Sediment pollution harms aquatic species by choking out habitat, clouding visibility for predators, and warming the temperature of the water column. Sediment also harms human communities who rely on surface waters for drinking. Sediment in Lick Creek flows downstream to Falls Lake, which provides drinking water to more than 600,000 Wake County residents. Dirty water is harder to filter and also elevates water temperature, contributing to co-occurring issues like elevated bacteria and algae blooms.
  • We can have responsible development that does not sacrifice our water resources! Durham needs to walk the talk when it comes to responsible development and environmental protection. 

More Background:

  • Since October of 2022, Sound Rivers has been actively documenting sediment pollution from ongoing land-clearing developments in the Lick Creek watershed. Since January 2023, 46 out of 68 water-quality samples taken by Sound Rivers in surface waters of the Lick Creek watershed failed to meet state water-quality standards. In several streams, levels of sediment were 10 times higher than state standards. One major tributary of Lick Creek, in the heart of southeast Durham, has violated state sediment standards every single month this year as a result of runoff from ongoing land-clearing developments.
  • Much of southeast Durham lies within the Triassic basin — a geological formation characterized by sedimentary soils like clay and sand. These are the most erosive types of soils and should receive extra protections to prevent runoff and the dirtying of our waterways.
  • The City of Durham is currently in the process of developing a Watershed Implementation Plan for southeast Durham’s Lick Creek, Briar Creek and Stirrup-Iron watersheds, which will invest in restoration projects to improve water quality and watershed hydrology. Greenlighting more land use changes in the area previously reserved for future growth will undercut this planning process and those watershed investments.

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