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Ephesus Fordham Renewal: Stormwater

Post Date:04/15/2014

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This spring, the Town Council is considering the Ephesus-Fordham Renewal, a proposal to stimulate development in one of our oldest and largest commercial areas around the intersection of Ephesus Church Road and US 15-501 or Fordham, the northern gateway to Chapel Hill.

The proposal calls to renew an area well known for its confusing intersections, vast parking lots and traffic jams into a thriving walkable district with an urban character attractive to younger generations that will live and work in Chapel Hill. It hinges on adoption of a new zoning model to stimulate the development that will grow a tax base to fund about $10 million in transportation improvements -- and some stormwater benefits. Guided by the Ephesus Church Road-Fordham Small Area Plan, the proposal also includes an affordable housing development.

PHOTO Stormwater The area was identified in the Chapel Hill 2020 community comprehensive plan as a focus area that requires more study and visioning for the future. Future focus areas are portions of Chapel Hill most likely to change due to vacant land, underdeveloped sites, and their locations along transportation and transit corridors.

“The Ephesus-Fordham Renewal has been in the works for a number of years, and now we are seeing many of the components come together to potentially make this the next cool place to live, work and play in Chapel Hill,“ said Town Manager Roger Stancil. “It’s important that our residents have good information about this multi-disciplined, systemic planning opportunity.”

Toward that aim, the Town of Chapel Hill has prepared a series of stories on the following areas – Rezoning, Transportation, Stormwater, Affordable Housing and Expanding the Tax Base and Financing -- to assist our residents in understanding the proposal. For more, visit Questions? Contact Town staff at As always, the Chapel Hill Town Council wants to hear from you at


The Ephesus-Fordham Renewal proposal acknowledges that the area is prone to flooding and water quality problems. About 4,000 acres of the Booker Creek watershed drains to this area via Booker Creek, which runs under The Shops at Eastgate, past Elliott Road, Fordham Boulevard and Willow Drive to Little Creek, and eventually the water flows into Jordan Lake.

Booker Creek Watershed Since 2003, the Town required higher flow rate and volume reduction controls for new development and redevelopment projects. However, most of the existing development in the Ephesus-Fordham area and the Booker Creek watershed was constructed prior to implementation of the Town’s current stormwater regulations. This means most of the developments have little if any stormwater controls.

“In the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, Orange County permitted houses to be built in and near a floodplain without any stormwater controls,” said Chris Jensen, a stormwater engineer with the Town of Chapel Hill.

About 57 percent of the Ephesus-Fordham area is impervious. Estimates for the new development district predict this will increase by 5 to 11 percent over the next 20 years. To help address existing water quality and water quantity issues, the Town’s current stormwater regulations are being implemented in the district as well as applying the Jordan nutrient treatment requirements to sites that do not increase impervious surface as a result of redevelopment. Current land use management rules do not require this higher level of stormwater protections.

“We are proposing a higher level of stormwater treatment for this area that will address impacts from redevelopment,” Jensen said. “We believe that a watershed approach is necessary to provide an effective strategy for addressing existing drainage and flooding issues.”

This approach is a component of the draft Chapel Hill Stormwater Management Program Master Plan, a townwide master plan. The Council will open a public hearing on April 21 to receive public comment on the master plan.

Town engineers and consultant Kimley-Horn and Associates are addressing stormwater issues through the following actions: 

  • Drafting technical standards and requirements for redevelopment and new development to be included in the Form Based Code. 
  • Creating a municipal service district that would use revenues from a proposed 4-cent district tax on every $100 worth of commercial property value to assist owners with maintenance of stormwater treatment structures such as bioretention basins 
  • Developing higher technical standards than the rest of the town for water quality treatment. If approved, this area would have the most stringent stormwater management regulations in Town. 
  • Implementing recommendations in the draft Chapel Hill Stormwater Management Program Master Plan to complete subwatershed studies that look at the watershed as a whole to identify and review drainage problems, assess flooding and water quality issues, and develop integrated subwatershed plans for improvements to infrastructure as well as water quality capital improvements. 
  • Creating a district stormwater model that engineers will use to study the expected impact of the redevelopment. As redevelopment occurs over time the model can be updated to replace modeling assumptions with actual redevelopment data.

About the Process

The Town of Chapel Hill has been working for several years on the renewal of this area. Following numerous public input sessions, the Council adopted the Ephesus Church Road-Fordham Small Area Plan in June 2011. In 2012, Town staff began to study and consider the use of form-based codes, an idea that evolved from the Chapel Hill 2020 visioning process and eventual comprehensive plan.

A collaborative team of staff members from planning, stormwater, engineering, traffic, transit, finance and economic development areas has moved the renewal proposal forward. Beyond the internal team, professional consultants are working on technical challenges. The team is also working closely with the Chapel Hill Carrboro Public Schools, Orange County, Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA), and Chapel Hill Transit on a cost/benefit analysis to better understand future impacts of the plan on the community.

In 2014, the renewal project was presented to the Chapel Hill Town Council on Jan. 22, and subsequently, public information meetings were held on Feb. 20 and Feb. 27. Council review continued at a work session on March 6, at a business meeting on March 24, and then at a joint meeting with the Orange County Board of Commissioners on March 27. There has been a high level of public interest and involvement throughout the planning process. With assistance from the Chapel Hill Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, the Town has contacted small business owners with information about the project.

Public information about the process is posted online at

What’s next? 

The Council will consider action on proposed rezonings at its next business meeting on May 12. After this, there are numerous checks and milestones that would need to occur for this multi-faceted project to move forward. Visit and click on the “Schedule” button to see where we are today in this process.

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