Orange County

Water woes? Officials downplay flood fears tied to construction near Booker Creek

Ram Realty Services has proposed a central motor court for pickups and dropoffs and a pedestrian passageway (white area) bisecting a single Fordham Boulevard Apartments building. The passage would connect with a greenway along the Booker Creek corridor.
Ram Realty Services has proposed a central motor court for pickups and dropoffs and a pedestrian passageway (white area) bisecting a single Fordham Boulevard Apartments building. The passage would connect with a greenway along the Booker Creek corridor. Cline Design Associates

Building new apartments beside Booker Creek in the Ephesus-Fordham district won’t affect flooding and public green space as much as you might think, officials say. 

Developer Ram Realty Services is planning the 273-unit Fordham Boulevard Apartments for the corner of South Elliott Road and Fordham Boulevard. The project is expected to replace a Days Inn and roughly an acre of the largest undeveloped tract in the 185-acre district.

But the site sits at the bottom of the Booker Creek floodplain, a topographic bowl capturing stormwater runoff from acres of higher ground around the district. Booker Creek passes just a hundred feet to the west, from Franklin Street under the Shops at Eastgate and through a muddy gully behind the Village Plaza shops.

Storm-related flooding has caused decades of damage to the buildings, and a subwatershed study this year suggested the town make digging out the gully a high priority so more water can pond there.

The town also wants more green and gathering spaces, including an attractive creekside amenity for residents, visitors, pedestrians and cyclists. However, few Ephesus-Fordham projects have addressed that goal. Those that do, such as the Hillstone apartments beside Ram’s Plaza and the Fordham apartments, tuck in small public parks that aren’t visible to passersby.

W.K. Dickson consultant Tom Murray and Civitech Inc.’s Tony Sease have studied the Fordham Boulevard project’s potential effect on the water storage area and on the district’s walkability and public spaces.

Sease wasn’t available, but Murray and others addressed the issues:

What about flooding?

Construction is allowed in a floodplain, provided the floor level is above the floodwater line and the building uses water-resistant materials. The Fordham apartment project reduces the water storage area by 20 percent, however, and cuts 1 to 4 inches from the expected 2-foot reduction in Eastgate-area water levels.

“It’s something, but it’s not huge,” Murray said. “It’s definitely still a very worthwhile project.”

Julie McClintock, vice chair of the town’s Stormwater Management Utility Advisory Board, had a different take during a July project review. There will be more flooding at nearby businesses from the apartment project, she said.

“It’s legal, because they did a FEMA study and determined it’s (allowed),” McClintock said. “On the other hand, the town is spending millions of dollars to build an impoundment behind it to lessen the flooding, and what we’re going to do is not as good a job with taxpayer money because of this project.”

Floodplain development can be frustrating, Murray said, but the town is “very invested in this area to try to provide some flood reduction and stormwater benefits.”

What must the developer do?

Although the project more than doubles existing impervious surfaces such as roofs, a stormwater study also shows the vacant lot’s soil is thick clay. The grass may be green, Murray said, but it’s not absorbing much water.

Ram Realty would add 2 feet of fill dirt, and install permeable pavement and an underground filter and detention system to treat on-site runoff. The developer also is working with town staff to coordinate the apartment and water storage area construction to reduce the effect on the stream. 

What about green space?

Greenways and other passive recreation is possible in the gully, Mayor Pam Hemminger said, but it’s too wet for much more. The town’s focus is on creating a signature community space at the 35-acre American Legion property, just outside the district boundary on Legion Road, she said.

“Then we’ve been talking to Federal, which owns the Eastgate property, about enhancing the back of their stores, so that there could be some space back there,” she said.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

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