Opinion

Many lessons to learn from the tragedy in Houston – Sue Hunter and Molly De Marco

While there are, of course, many lessons to be learned from the tragedy that occurred in Houston last month, we significantly disagree with the author of the commentary, “Still time for Chapel Hill to avoid planning mistakes of Houston.” (Aug. 31)

It’s no secret that Houston, the metropolitan region and the entire state of Texas have significantly fewer zoning restrictions and regulations compared to a town like Chapel Hill. Limited road capacity, a high amount of impervious surface, and significant sprawl certainly exacerbated a natural disaster.

All of the claims made by the author have limited, if any, relevance to impact on flooding in Chapel Hill, however. To begin with, Houston and its metropolitan area is the fifth largest metropolitan area in the country. As such, Houston’s metropolitan area is massive, and it’s one defined by sprawl.

Conversely, Chapel Hill and Carrboro have proactively worked to limit sprawl for decades by limiting our growth inside an urban services zone that preserves thousands of acres of open land in the rural buffer. The redevelopment of Ephesus Fordham was specifically designed to accommodate new growth and housing options on already developed land. More than half of that district was already paved over before the Town Council passed the redevelopment in 2014. The first development occurred on an existing paved parking lot that was surrounded by a chain link fence, hence not adding impervious surface to the district.

When it comes to flooding, the new zoning actually sets significantly better storm water control than what existed previous to the initiation of this district. Standards at the time of original construction were minimal or non-existent. Under the new code, re-development was required to meet much higher storm-water standards.

Our community is enriched when residents provide feedback and open dialogue is encouraged around topics of growth and development. It’s no secret that there are some members of the community opposed to the renewal of the Ephesus-Fordham district. But let’s refrain from trying to take advantage of a disaster that claimed the lives of dozens of Americans to score cheap political points.

Sue Hunter and Molly De Marco are residents of Chapel Hill

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