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Why the Homestead at Jordan Lake is a bad idea

By Allison Weakley
Posted Friday, January 2, 2004

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Creating artificial meadows is not environmentally sensitive and does nothing for the health, safety and welfare of the surrounding communities.

Jordan Lake is an extremely valuable water source and provides aquatic habitat for fish, waterfowl, and many other species. The potential for negative impacts to the water resources in Jordan Lake is a major
problem as The Homestead proposes to build 1 house per 0.5 acres or less in an area currently zoned for very low density development in Protected and Critical Areas of Watershed IV. Based on the recently completed Jordan Lake Nutrient Response Modeling Project ( ), a cooperative project between NC Division of Water Quality, Piedmont Triad Council of Governments, and the Triangle J Council of Governments (see "it is estimated that nonpoint sources contribute about 70% of the total nutrient load to the New Hope Arm of the lake. Three major publicly owned wastewater treatment plants and several small privately owned "package" plants discharge highly treated effluent just a short distance from the lake. Clearly, any future nutrient management strategy will need to address both nonpoint and point source loads, and include participation from many diverse watershed stakeholders."

Nonpoint source nutrient loads come from a variety of activities across the watershed, such as:

* runoff of fertilizers from urban lawns;
* fertlizer runoff from agricultural lands;
* septic tank and onsite wastewater systems;
* pet and animal wastes;
* stormwater runoff from streets, parking lots, and rooftops; and
* atmospheric deposition of nutrients that are released into the air from factories, power plants, cars, and other sources.

The recent development of the 600-acre gated golf community called The Preserve at Jordan Lake adjacent to The Homestead site raises additional concerns over cumulative impacts to water quality. The Homestead site lies on the southern boundary of The Preserve, a development along Big Woods Road that was approved in 1997 and is just now being built. It's important to note that The Preserve sports an 18-hole gold course, a land use known to significantly increase nutrient loads (from pesticides and fertilizers) in watersheds. If The Homestead is approved, that will mean that over 1177 acres in the Big Woods Road area will be developed for 991 homes each situated on 0.5-acre lots or less. Currently the zoning in the Big Woods Road area requires residential properties to be 5 or more acres in size (except in The Preserve), and the RA-5 zoning in this area is appropriate given the impact that higher density development has on water quality and the environmental integrity of the surrrounding environment.

Everyone who could be taking water from Jordan Lake has an interest in the water quality. Durham, Orange, and Chatham counties, Cary, and the state of North Carolina should all be concerned about continued impacts to cumulative water quality in Jordan Lake. Water is a non-renewable resource. And, to date, no land-use or human impact study has never been conducted around Jordan Lake. Right now, town and county government officials have the power of zoning ordinances to help protect water quality -- zoning ordinances to limit impervious surfaces and to limit residential and commercial densities in Protected and Critical watersheds.

The Homestead proposal estimates that 1216 residents will live in this development at build out. That means at least 500-1000 vehicles will drive a network of country roads (Lystra Road, Jack Bennett Road, Big Woods Road) daily. Add this statistic to the number of commuters who will live in The Preserve (ca. 1320 based on 2.56 people per resident, as stated in The Homestead proposal) and other residential areas along Big Woods Road, and traffic safety and density becomes a very big concern.

Jordan Lake is home to the largest population of active bald eagle nests in North Carolina; currently there are 4 active nests consisting of approximately 10-20 individuals total. Bald Eages are a federally
threatened bird species, and Jordan Lake is also the largest summer home for migratory bald eagles in the eastern United States (as many as 71 eagles have been recorded on the lake in this season, according to the Audobon Society). In addition to eagles, the lake supports a great diversity of waterfowl, songbirds and wading birds annually. In fact, one of only 2 nesting sites for Double-crested Cormorants known in North Carolina occur at Jordan Lake. Increasing development adjacent to Jordan Lake Project boundaries is a problem for birds and other types of wildlife. Disturbance of the bald eagles during the nesting season is a major concern, and one active nesting site is known to occur in a marsh not far from intersection of Jack Bennett and Big Woods Road. The increased traffic brought to this interesection could become a threat to this active nesting site, and increased population density in this area could have deleterious effects on these birds.

Jordan Lake is Chatham County's claim to natural resource fame, as it attracts over a million visitors a year who come here to recreate. According to the NC Department of Commerce (see "Jordan Lake State Recreation Area is one of North Carolina's most popular state parks." In fact, Jordan Lake ranks among the top 10 tourist destinations in North Carolina

As Chatham County grows, its citizenry will need more dedicated recreational areas. Higher density development on remaining natural lands adjacent to one of the highest ranked tourist destinations in
North Carolina will degrade the limited natural areas left surrounding Jordan Lake, leaving less opportunities to expand the state parks and gamelands. As tourism increases in Chatham County (and it has over the past few years!), and as development limits what natural areas are still available for recreation, conservation and sound land use decisions become more and more important. The Big Woods Road area is poised to be a very valuable part of the Triangle's recreation amenities. Improved quality of life and the revenues generated by tourism will in the long run surpass in public benefits what The Homestead proposes to offer the Chatham community.

Note: The Chatham County Parks and Recreation Department Advisory Board is currently exploring the recreation interests of Chatham residents. The next meeting is to be held Jan 21st at Northwood High School at 6:30pm. Citizen input will help shape plans for future recreation expenditures in Chatham County. This would be a great forum in which to express your desires for more outdoor recreation opportunities!

The Homestead development is proposed on land considered to be of "County significance" by the NC Natural Heritage Program (NC NHP). Biologists Steve Hall and Marj Boyer were contracted by the NC NHP to survey the Big Woods area in 1989 and 1990 as part of the "Inventory of the Natural Areas and Wildlife Habitats of Chatham County, NC." The Inventory was initiated as a joint effort between the Chatham County Planning Department, headed by Keith Megginson, and the Triangle Land Conservancy. In fact, the Chatham County Commissioners provided all the funding for the survey and inventory report.

At the writing of the report in 1992, the Big Woods Wilderness (as it is called it in the Inventory report) was the largest tract of unbroken upland forest remaining in Chatham County, if not the entire Triangle
region. The Inventory report states that the Big Woods area serves as an important wildlife resevoir, supplying the entire area through its connections via the Jordan Lake gamelands to the Haw River, New Hope Creek, and Morgan Creek watersheds. Today, though the portions of Big Woods area has undergone some residential development, it still contains some of the best examples of extensive mature upland hardwood forest communities in Chatham County. The remaining undeveloped tracts along Big Woods Road are not only of County significance from a biological diversity perspective, but could be considered of Regional significance from a landscape perspective (pers. com., Steve Hall) in that they allow wildlife that needs large, unfragmented lands that are connected with other such areas by corridors of continuous forest habitat throughout a region a place to forage and breed. Carnivorous mammals such as the bobcat, long-tailed weasel, mink, and gray fox are known to occur in the Jordan Lake area. These species require forested and relatively undisturbed lands, which may include farmlands, to survive. Many Neotropical migrant songbirds and birds of prey (bald eagles, owls, vultures, hawks, ospreys, etc.) also rely on relatively unfragmented deciduous forests. Wild turkeys are known to occur in the Jordan Lake area and they too benefit from migratory corridors of more mature
hardwood forests. Many of the wildlife species that depend on expanses of deciduous forest are known to be adversely affected by increased road and human population densities, which cause these species to vacate areas of otherwise suitable habitat.

The site proposed for The Homestead is adjacent to land owned by the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers that is designated by the NC Natural Heritage as the Big Woods Road Upland Forests; two other sections of these Upland Forests occur north along Big Woods Road, and one of the three sections is a Registered Heritage Area (RHA). Another RHA known as Bush Creek Marsh occurs at the intersection of Big Woods Road and Jack Bennett Road, and this RHA is home to one of only 4 active nesting sites for the Federally Threatened bald eagle in the Piedmont.

The Homestead proposal claims that a "system of open meadows and grasslands offer an environmentally sensitive development of the property," and that this along with stream buffers will "protect the health, safety and welfare of The Homestead and surrounding communities." HOW? Creating artificial meadows is not environmentally sensitive and does nothing for the health, safety and welfare of the surrounding communities. Artificial meadows also do nothing for the many wildlife species that depend on decidious forests for nesting, foraging, and migration. Currently the Big Woods area (expect in the Preserve) is zoned for low density development that will help maintain wildlife habitat and migratory corridors in this significant natural area around Jordan Lake. Allowing higher density development in this area will surely impact birds and animals who depend on larger tracts of


Related info:
Homestead Five Findings

Planning Board Discussion

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