Planning commission stuck on quarry expansion

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Hanson's existing quarry sits off Duraleigh Road in North Raleigh near Crabtree Creek. | Photo by Tyler Dukes

North Raleigh residents will have to wait a little longer to find out whether city leaders will approve a plan to expand a 60-year-old granite quarry near Umstead Park.

The city’s Planning Commission decided Tuesday it would take more time to review a proposal by Hanson Aggregates Southeast, a division of Germany-based HeidelbergCement Group, to rezone an area near Ebenezer Church Road. The proposal would allow Hanson to expand its granite quarry west into 142 acres of land now owned by a housing developer.

Rezoning the area from residential to industrial would run contrary to the city’s 2030 Comprehensive Plan, adopted in late 2009 to guide the city’s rapid expansion. And many of the 15,000 residents who surround the existing quarry on three sides say that’s a problem. They’re worried about the impact spot rezoning will have on potential homeowners who use the plan to guide decisions about where to buy.

“I love the comp plan,” said Margaret Thomas, who recently bought a home in the nearby Hamptons neighborhood. “I’ve put my economic future behind it.”

They’re also concerned about the effect an expanded quarry, rocked regularly by explosions that mine the stone, will have on property values.

“We’re not talking about clean industry here,” planning commissioner Peter Batchelor pointed out at the meeting Tuesday. “This is a noisy, dirty industry.”

But Hanson is hoping to address those concerns by offering the city and nearby residents a few perks, like property for the greenway and the construction of noise dampening barriers and berms.

It’s also offering the use of its existing quarry for flood control in a major storm. With proper notice, Hanson says it could evacuate its equipment from the 250-foot-deep pit, allowing the city to channel overflow stormwater from Crabtree Creek.

An analysis by an engineering firm hired by Hanson shows the measure could protect 76 acres of land and 11 to 13 structures in a 100-year storm. One of those structures is Crabtree Valley Mall, which suffered extensive flood damage from Hurricane Fran. Those benefits decrease downstream from the site, and would likely provide only inches of flood protection as far out as downtown Raleigh.

The city would be responsible for designing, permitting, installing and constructing the flood control system, as well as the system to drain the water according to waste water regulations. Based on adjusted costs of a similar plan in 1991 that was eventually scrapped, Hanson attorney Gray Styers priced the construction, engineering and land rights of such a project at about $4 million, not including the cost of the pump system.

The 2030 Comprehensive Plan calls for the area to be zoned residential, which Hanson wants to change. | Image courtesy of the City of Raleigh

City staff members said it’s hard to accurately predict a cost of the entire system without paying a consulting firm to design it. That could run as much as $50,000 alone, according to Mark Senior, project engineer with the city’s Stormwater Utility Division. And Senior said it would be hard to build off any initial cost estimates from the original study.

“It’s a different animal today because of all the different regulations,” he told the commission.

The commission did ask city staff to provide rough cost estimates, which Senior said he’ll have available by the group’s next meeting.

But Styers told the commission his client’s offer is less about cost and more about securing the availability of the quarry.

“If you want to have this as an option, the city has to have the rights to use it, and it doesn’t have those rights now,” Styers said. “We’re not asking the city to pay anything.”

Hanson Vice President and General Manager Chris Ward said the decision to expand won’t necessarily mean more activity, but it will make sure the company has enough granite to mine for the next 45 years, when all blasting would stop at the new mine. He said the existing quarry has enough rock to last for 20 to 25 years.

“We’re not changing our production capacity,” Ward said. “We’re ensuring we have resources over a longer period of time.”

If it secures those resources to the west, Hanson also says it will drop pending litigation with the city over the company’s land south of the existing quarry, which it can’t currently mine because of zoning. This area, south of Crabtree Creek, would become a public park and part of the greenway.

“If the second quarry to the south was excavated, the impact would be far greater,” Styers said. “Instead of litigating, we felt like this would be a better option.”

But nearby homeowners, about 1,600 of whom have signed an online petition against the proposal, say Hanson is overlooking numerous problems with every one of its “carrots” to the city — from stormwater logistics to the liability of running a greenway around an active quarry.

“Who is going to pay for that public benefit?” Clyde Holt, an attorney representing residents of the nearby Delta Ridge neighborhood, told the commission. “It’s the adjacent property owners.”

That uncertainty is why the commission voted to table the issue until its next meeting on March 1.

Ward said he believes the commission is doing its due diligence as it continues to debate the rezoning issue. He said his company has listened to the concerns of community members at several meetings in 2010 and is hopeful they’ll find a compromise.

“We’re going to continue to work hard to find a reasonable approach,” Ward said.

But homeowners like Matt Alvarez, who lives in the nearby Hamptons neighborhood, say the issue boils down whether the commission values the 2030 Comprehensive Plan over spot rezoning, which the plan was specifically designed to prevent.

“This is as far away from residential zoning as you can get,” Alvarez said in a January interview. “To swing all the way across the spectrum seems like the antithesis of land planning.”

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