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Water and Sewer Boundary Agreement Status

A perspective from Terri Buckner


Since mid-September 2023, I’ve attended and read everything I could find for and against the water and sewer boundary expansion project proposed in Chapel Hill. The project would run OWASA sewer lines from Southern Village to the Chatham County line. Listed below are the top five (5) claims the Town and the Chamber of Commerce are making in support of the expansion. Other claims periodically pop into their lobbying efforts, but these five have been repeated consistently.

Claim 1: 15-501S is a transit corridor.

Reality: The Town-owned property (and the land identified by the church), by road, is .8 mile from the stop light turning into Southern Village, so just over a mile from the closest transit access.

  • By trail, it could be a little closer IF the Fan Branch Greenway is extended.
  • The Park and Ride at Southern Village is already overcrowded.
  • The Park and Ride south of the Walmart in Chatham County is only available to UNC staff and students.
  • There are no sidewalks or bike lanes on either side of 15-501, an NCDOT-owned road.
  • While BRT has been approved from Eubanks to Southern Village, it hasn’t been funded, and when (if) it is funded, it’s more than 5 years away from beginning construction and won’t serve the Town-owned site on 15-501S or anywhere else along 15-501 south of Southern Village.

Claim 2: The Town owns 12.76 acres of land in that area that can be used for affordable housing.

Reality: This claim is true. But no one is asking if this is the best place for affordable housing.  Sometime in the early 2000s, the Town bought several properties from the estate of Leo V. Merritt with funding from a voter-approved open space bond. The 12.76 acres on 15-501S, Jay Street, and Merritt’s Pasture were in that package. Fan Branch Creek runs along the western edge of the 15-501S tract which will reduce the buildable area on that very narrow tract by several acres, especially given the recent promise of a setback easement along 15-501. A rough guess is 8 acres total for affordable housing. Hard to tell, but it’s not the 10 acres they keep quoting. Other Town-owned sites, such as those identified by the 2017 Using Town Properties Task Force could accommodate more housing at a more affordable price since sewer service is already available at all of those sites.

Claim 3: A local church wants to build affordable housing directly across from the Town-owned land.

Reality: Representatives from The Holy Trinity Anglican Church have attended every public meeting since November 2023 proclaiming their intent to buy 50 acres, across from the Town-owned site, to build affordable housing, calling it a social justice issue. When they shared their initial plans with the Carrboro Town Council on February 6, 2024, we learned more specifics. Their initial proposal creates 140 market-rate townhomes with 21 affordable units (the minimum required by Chapel Hill’s inclusionary zoning policy) plus a new church building. In other words, they aren’t really building an affordable housing development; they are building a market rate housing development to finance their church building.

Claim 4: The current residents need access to clean water.

Reality: Those who drafted the original WASMPBA agreement included a provision guaranteeing residents outside that boundary would be allowed to connect to OWASA or Hillsborough water and sewer in the event of health problems with their well water. Sadly, neither the past Mayor or her staff bothered to explain this to the two households who were experiencing the water quality problem (they share the same well). Others may want public water due to the cost of maintaining wells and septic, but that isn’t a healthy water problem.

Claim 5: Developing this area will not create any stormwater problems for surrounding residents.

Reality: The US EPA estimates that when impervious surfaces reach 10–20% of a local watershed area, surface water runoff doubles and continues to increase as more impervious surface is added. In the case of 15-501S where the majority of the land parcels contain single family homes and possibly some outbuildings, adding new development means adding impervious surface, up to 70% per state rules. So a single family home sitting on a 3-acre tract of land today could be developed with multiple homes on 2.1 acres (70% of 3 acres) of that tract in the future. Yes, there may be stormwater controls placed on the tract, but a recent report from the UNC Collaboratory has made it clear that the engineering of stormwater controls is not effectively reducing excessive flooding in built-out watersheds. The OWASA Board of Directors and the County Commissioners still have to vote on this proposal. Since Chapel Hill appoints the majority of the OWASA board members, it’s a pretty safe bet they will vote in favor. The item comes before the County Commissioners at their March 7 meeting. I have seen no evidence that the area will truly be developed with missing middle and affordable housing. The cost of running the sewer makes the affordability issue highly suspect. Until the Town finishes the LUMO re-write, which is not supposed to be available for review until the end of 2024, it’s hard to speculate how or if they can get around legislative restrictions.


“Viewpoints” on Chapelboro is a recurring series of community-submitted opinion columns. All thoughts, ideas, opinions and expressions in this series are those of the author, and do not reflect the work or reporting of 97.9 The Hill and Chapelboro.com.