Questions continue to linger as a Raleigh City Council committee considers a commercial development in the watershed.
Lifetime Fitness wants to build a new athletic facility on the 26-acre property, which sits just south of Interstate 540 on Falls of Neuse Road. Councilors are debating whether they should allow such a development in an area that is protected for a watershed and zoned only for residential use.
During the Comprehensive Planning Committee meeting Wednesday, councilors expressed concern that by building in the watershed, it would lessen their ability to tell other municipalities that they shouldn’t. The Falls Lake watershed spans a number of jurisdictions, and the lake serves as the primary reservoir for Raleigh’s water supply.
The watershed protects Falls Lake by acting as a natural filter for the water that flows off impervious surfaces — such as roads and parking lots — and into larger creeks and streams, which end up in the lake.
The city doesn’t allow commercial development in the watershed because it often comes with higher amounts of impervious surface than a single-family home. If the city permits Lifetime Fitness to build its facility, it could open the door to other rezoning applications for commercial development.
Before the committee will make a decision on the rezoning, members asked Lifetime Fitness to write a new condition that would state how the water would be diverted from the site and explain their stormwater runoff standards. The developer would be legally required to meet those standards.
According to the plan, only the front one-third of the property will be used for the facility and parking, while the remaining two thirds will be used for stormwater management. Researchers from N.C. State will help design the stormwater system and then monitor it for a year.
The developer says that the devices — ponds, wetlands and an increased tree canopy — will work so well, it would be like the facility isn’t even there.
Supporters of the project say that it will set a precedent, but it would also set the stormwater management standard so high, other developers would be required to follow suit.
Attorney Beth Trehos, representing the developer, pointed out that other uses could have the same impact but are allowed under the current zoning. A nonprofit, she said, could build the same facility and it would be allowed.
Schools and churches are also allowed in residential zoning.
While the City of Raleigh can control what is approved in its part of the watershed, it doesn’t have much of a say in the decisions of other municipalities such as Durham and Creedmoor. The concern is that other municipalities, with much more property in the watershed, would use the development as leverage to continue to build — possibly without the high standard expected from Lifetime Fitness.
“If we do this then we will encourage the proliferation of systems that aren’t up to the same standards, is my concern,” said Councilor Randy Stagner.
Stormwater devices require maintenance, which is supposed to be managed by the developer. Developers, or in the case of subdivisions, homeowners associations, submit an annual report to the city.
To lessen the amount of stormwater devices needed, Stagner said he’d rather see the stormwater pumped to a different part of the site, which would send it farther downstream.
Stormwater Utility Manager Danny Bowden said because the site would still have to meet water quality rules, it is likely that developers would still have to install some stormwater devices, but they would be smaller.
“Long-term maintenance is still going to be an issue no matter what type of device you use,” Bowden said. “That maintenance question is something we’re going to struggle with for the next 50 to 100 years.”
Councilor Bonner Gaylord said if Lifetime Fitness is going to meet the water quality standards that are expected, then he is comfortable moving forward with the project. Councilors and staff could continue to debate the unknown implications of future development by communities out of their jurisdiction, but at some point a decision has to be made, he said.
“I would hate for us to get into the condition known as analysis paralysis,” Gaylord said.
The committee will discuss the case again at its next meeting April 24.