by Bob Geary
The Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation has filed suit in Superior Court against Wake County — and the Board of Commissioners — in an effort to block that infamous "text change" approved last month for a developer in the Falls Lake watershed. Under the guise of eliminating an old, non-conforming source of pollution, the "change" would amend the county's zoning code to create a new, conforming (i.e., permitted) source of pollution, the suit alleges.
The new source: A shopping center. In the watershed.
This is from a statement issued today:
The proposed text change to the Unified Development Ordinance does not benefit Falls Lake or Wake County residents in general, serves only private interests, and risks opening the flood gates to a horde of environmentally damaging projects that will no longer be required to receive appropriate evaluation by the public. Your generous contribution will help the Neuse RIVERKEEPER® Foundation fight back against this change and protect your source of water for drinking and recreation.
In an effort to protect Wake County drinking water supplies, such as Falls Lake, watershed zoning restrictions only allow for small commercial buildings (15,000 square feet at most) to be developed in the water supply watershed. The text change to the Unified Development Ordinance, misleadingly titled “Elimination and Redevelopment of Nonconforming Use,” is an attempt to let nonconforming uses—properties that were already developed in a manner the code no longer allows—to redevelop without having to comply with this restriction. The specific property interest bringing this change forward is a lumber yard with plans to be converted into a large shopping center near Old Creedmoor Road and Highway 98 in northwest Wake County, a property in close proximity to Falls Lake.
We have appealed to the courts for their assistance in reversing the Wake County Board of Commissioner’s actions regarding the approved text change to the Unified Development Ordinance for the following reasons:
* The text change sends a poor message to upstream communities whom we expect to work with us in protecting Falls Lake. Falls Lake is already impaired, will be expensive to clean up, and is the main drinking water source for over half a million people in and surrounding Wake County. The Wake County the Board of Commissioners must make responsible decisions regarding the protection of the Lake or forgo their right to demand that upstream communities do the same.
* Since beneficial commercial uses could be determined to be appropriate and allowed to occur on this property through existing procedures there is no reason that the change is required in order to protect the property owner’s interests. Failure to pass the change does not constitute a taking of private property.
* The broad language forwarded by the applicant opens the door to at least another 10 similar activity centers throughout Wake County that are also within the watershed of a drinking water supply reservoir. Wake County has not disclosed what the impacts of this would be but, unquestionably, they will affect your drinking water.
* Approving this project via text change does not ensure that environmental protections discussed by the proponent will be implemented. Before this text change, approval by rezoning, the conventional approach to a project of this sort, would include conditions that require the applicant to honor their word.