A debate that’s happening in many different cities across the US is being played out right now in the mid-sized community of Greenville, NC. The city’s population is just shy of 90,000—although there are nearly 175,000 in the entire metropolitan area—and it’s growing at a fairly rapid pace. And that’s part of the problem.
The debate is over where to allow new buildings, and how to account for the effect they will have on the overall pattern of runoff in the community. As in almost every city, developers want to build on the most desirable and centrally located lots. Sometimes that means building in a floodplain, although it’s not always obvious to the people who’ll be buying the newly developed property—or even to the developers—just what the implications of that will be.
As each developed parcel adds to the total amount of impervious surface in the watershed, drainage patterns, erosion, and flood risks all change. Sometimes streams are diverted—as Green Mill Run in Greenville was years ago—to make way for new buildings and roads.
The debate often takes the form of requests for, and objections to, rezoning a particular parcel of land. This article highlights one such back-and-forth in Greenville. Rather than granting a rezoning request and allowing new condominiums to go up close to the already-flood-prone Green Mill Run, opponents want to limit the land’s use to things like parks or green spaces. A local geology professor is one of those opponents; of the property owners, he says, “Don’t you do due diligence if you’re going to invest in something? When you buy a car you kick the tires; you need to do the same thing for land. If you’re trying to turn a fast buck, then you made a bad decision. Should the city bail you out at that point? I don’t think so.”
The city is also working on upgrades to its stormwater infrastructure, although most agree that because it’s old and undersized, the projects now underway are just allowing the system to catch up to the current need.