Durham’s famed Eno River may soon face an encroaching residential development, but concerned residents are fighting to protect what they can.
An area known as Black Meadow Ridge, located just south of the West Point on the Eno park, may become a new development featuring nearly 400 townhomes and other residences. Developer Keith Brown has all but secured city approval for the project, but Durham residents committed to slowing or stopping the rezoning have formed the group Save Black Meadow Ridge to try and do just that.
West Point is Durham's premier city park and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, according to the group’s website.
“Visitors to the south side of the park, including the popular trail to Sennett's Hole, will look up at the backs of several dozen townhomes,” the website reads. “The experience of being in nature will be forever compromised.”
More than just this, residents have voiced concerns over the antiquated data used in planning stormwater management in the development.
“The stormwater management planning is based on data that doesn't take climate change into account. Flooding in the park is likely to become worse and could affect the water quality of the Eno river,” the website reads.
The organization’s ultimate goal is to convince the city of the dangers of developing the land at all. They hope for the city to find a way to acquire the land and make it part of the West Point on the Eno park.
The Chronicle spoke to one member of the group, Tom Edds, who shared his insights on the history and efforts of the group.
A strip of land of about 60 acres sits between the Ardonne Hills neighborhood and the West Point on the Eno park, according to Edds.T he West Point development that’s proposed will fill up most of those 60 acres with condos and houses.
“Some of the neighbors near the property found out about the development I guess about two years ago at this point and have worked together kind of as peers to build the website and organize the best we could,” Edds said.
Edds talked about how Brown has checked all the boxes needed for city approval, but that to residents this is not enough. “He’s done everything the city’s requiring him to do in terms of documenting that traffic won't be a problem or that stormwater won't be a problem, but we feel like that’s based on some bad assumptions,” Edds said.
The current and future impacts of climate change are of concern to them in that the current stormwater plan may still result in future flooding that damages the park and the river itself.
“All the stormwater management is based on rainfall data that doesn't take climate change into account; they’ve got expected rain levels from a couple decades ago, and things have changed,” Edds said. “That’s a real issue, given there’s already flooding in the area. The Eno has flooded from time to time without that.”
He continued that the nature of such a large development inherently makes any flooding bad for the environment. The Eno River could be contaminated by stormwater rolling off pavement, roots and other objects.
Edds also addressed the lack of opportunity for public input, despite the potential impact on residents close to the park.
“It’s just going through an administrative process that allows for no real public input, and that’s one of the things that we’re challenging,” Edds said. “That’s not sufficient.”
The one avenue for public comment, through the state Department of Environmental Quality, closed in October. A total of 31 comments were submitted on the website and are available for public viewing online.
“We made a campaign; we feel like people were active in responding to that, but as of today, we haven’t heard anything back from the state about that,” Edds said. “That was the one chance for public input we’ve been able to find.”
Some of the comments submitted ran multiple pages in length and cited a number of different concerns over the West Point development.
“Such a high-density development combined with the effects of climate change will bring much worsened flooding. A public hearing must occur for all these reasons,” Jennifer Nygard wrote.
“The Black Meadow Ridge property is a historical site. In conversations with local historians, Black Meadow Ridge holds the remnants of the old trade route and porter path that went from Flat River to Stagsville,” Julie Hill wrote. “This needs further time and investigations before the developer tears up a history that cannot be replaced.”
“Why is the City of Durham taking a 1970’s-style approach to this obsolete overdevelopment with lack of concern for the Eno River and West Point on the Eno Park? Fifty years on we should all be smarter and now know better,” Kerstin Nygard wrote.
Edds also talked about his personal interest in the matter and why city residents not directly affected may still have a stake in the outcome.
“My backyard borders on the property, so I'm certainly interested for that reason, I’m not gonna hide that,” Edds said.
He mentioned the July 4th festival that typically takes place at the West Point park. “People who don’t make it any other time are up there.”
“It’s a great park, it runs along the river, there’s places for swimming and fishing and lots of hiking trails, and we just feel like this development is going to compromise the quality of the experience at the park. That’s why a number of us got involved,” Edds said.
Save Black Meadow Ridge has hired a lawyer to help make their legal case to the Durham Board of Adjustment and has a GoFundMe to help pay for legal fees.
He admitted that while it may be too late to submit public comments to the state, those interested in the group’s aims can still take action.
“As far as action, what people can do is educate themselves, go visit the park, so that if you do get a chance to speak up you can speak up from personal experience, other than that there’s not a lot of chance for public input at this point,” Edds said.
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Parker Harris is a Trinity senior and an editor at large of The Chronicle's 118th volume.