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Historic view of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill looking north from Manning Drive (Figure 1)

The University has been engaged in the Master Plan process for the past three years, with the assistance of Ayers Saint Gross and guidance from the University staff and faculty, as well as dialogue with the Chapel Hill community. During this process, it became apparent that a number of environmental issues required definition and warranted special consideration. The formulation of planning and design strategies that would ensure the environmental quality of the University and the surrounding community had to be integrated in the design process. The final Comprehensive Master Plan must assure that future development sustains that quality and reflects the environmental concerns of both the University community and the town of Chapel Hill.

StreamAfter careful consideration of the diverse environmental issues, the University concluded that the environmental component of the Comprehensive Master Plan would have three major objectives:

  • Evaluate the quantity and quality of land and water resources at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, on both the Main Campus and the Mason Farm property.
  • Guide the Comprehensive Master Plan in protecting and restoring environmentally sensitive areas of the Campus.
  • Develop growth strategies that mitigate the water resource impacts of existing and new development on the Main Campus and downstream, as well as address the requirements of future water quality regulations.
Current view of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill looking north from Manning Drive. (Figure 2)

The Comprehensive Master Plan Committee and the Advisory Group provided guidance to the environmental consulting team of Andropogon Associates and Cahill Associates throughout this process. The initial challenge was to test the premise that the Master Plan could accommodate significant additional square footage of University facilities, while preserving and even enhancing critical natural resources of land and water. These resources include the Campus selling itself, the priceless heritage of natural habitats under University control in the Mason Farm Biological Reserve and the water resources which the University impacts through its building program and stormwater management facilities. Even as the Campus develops in the next decades, the University plans to be a model of sustainable development and recognizes that the health of the land and water resources of the Campus, and the surrounding community, are directly dependent on their preservation and restoration.

Morgan Creek downstream of the Campus (Figure 3)

The planning Process began by establishing the following environmental goals in order to address key water and land resource issues that will serve to guide future development in a sustainable fashion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

  1. Balance growth with preservation of the natural drainage system.
    • Reinforce the inherent natural beauty of the the Campus by creating building patterns that preserve stream corridors and forested steep slopes.
    • Make every building project the opportunity to restore some part of the “natural infrastructure.”
    • Protect water quality by reducing or eliminating non-point source pollutants scored from the land surface, including soil, and minimizing erosion and
      the consequent sedimentation of streams.
  2. Manage stormwater as an opportunity not as a problem.
    • Maximize present and future on-site infiltration of stormwater to recharge groundwater and absorb potential floodwaters.
    • Provide for capture and reuse of rainwater.
    • Manage total stormwater volume on site, zero percent net increase in runoff.
  3. Recognize that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is part of the Cape Fear Watershed.
    • Enhance and protect the water quality of the surface streams to meet National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) water quality standards.
    • Protect Jordan Lake, a major downstream drinking water supply and recreation area.
  4. Reinforce the University’s position as a Role Model.
    • Create and enforce University policies that permanently protect environmentally sensitive land, reinforce and strengthen open space policies and plan for habitat protection.
    • Reassign key land parcels to named protected areas.
    • Apply appropriate management strategies to certain critical land areas, such as Morgan Creek floodplain, to ensure that management measures preserve the ecological functions of stream corridors, swales and drainage corridors.
    • Monitor and assess all short- and long-term land and water resource management objectives.
1993 Stream Classifications (Figure 4)

One of the primary goals of the Comprehensive Master Plan has been to infill needed program space within present Campus boundaries, rather than to contribute to sprawl in the surrounding countryside. A second goal (Essence of North Carolina) is to humanize the large scale of the southern end of the Main Campus. This was to be done by re-creating the pattern of development that was so successful and beloved in the Historic Core in the northern end — interconnected greens defined by broad, low buildings. However, in examining the environmental structure of the Main Campus, one drawback to realizing this second goal was immediately apparent. The landforms of the southern end of the Main Campus are not the same as those of the northern end. Rather than a single broad, gently sloping plateau, the landforms of the southern end are characterized by rolling knolls disected by small stream valleys, bounded by steep valley walls.

In order to develop the required University facilities in the southern end of the Main Campus while protecting. preserving and restoring critical components of the environmental system, new structures and pavements should not be located in a stream valley or drainage channel, or on steep, forested slopes. Where possible, the opportunities provided by tearing down unwanted older facilities should be used to restore drainage channels, steams and floodplains, and to reforest slopes presently in structure or turf.

The health of the land and the water systems of the Campus are directly dependent on their preservation and restoration within the fabric of development. In the southern end of the Main Campus, proposed new development was re-examined to preserve and, where possible, to restore the riparian corridor; open, flowing streams, wetlands, floodplain and adjacent steep forested slopes. These two natural landscape elements are special resources, unique to the southern end of the Campus, and do not exist in the Historic Core. The valleys with their streams can be incorporated into the matrix of new buildings and become the direct equivalent to the greens and interconnecting walkways of the Historic Core. This concept allows for a new lowland pedestrian system that would be complemented by skyways — aerial bridges and walkways that preserve the rolling hills of South Campus, rather than obliterating them.

View of South Campus (Figure 5)
Eroded stream banks and low base flow of a local stream south of the Campus. (Figure 6)
Benthic Monitoring Classifications (Figure  7)

It is now understood that the impacts of both flood and drought are greatly increased as the result of poor land management and inappropriate design of related stormwater conveyance systems. Most existing conventional stormwater management systems simply collect increased runoff from impervious surfaces, concentrate the flow of water and increase the speed at which it travels. This runoff scours the ground surface and transports pollutants, both natural and man-made, in a turbid flow to all water bodies downstream. In this watershed, the impacts are evident, from Meeting of the Waters Creek to Jordan Lake.

Traditional concerns of stormwater management have focused on flood prevention. While this is still an important concern, we now understand that the same land development practices that increase the frequency and magnitude of flooding also reduce the base flow in our local streams by preventing groundwater recharge. Thus the extremes of flood and drought are just the physical symptoms of poor stormwater management. These impacts are evident throughout the community, from eroded channels of local streams turned dry in late summer to increasing eutrophic conditions in all impoundments.

The problems of stormwater quality and quantity start in the headwaters of each small drainage area. Thus the development of solutions must begin on the upland of the Main Campus, considering the collective impact of the land development patterns that have evolved at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and that guide future growth.

Evolving federal regulation will shortly require the University to mitigate water quality impacts from both old and new development on streams such as Morgan, Meeting of the Waters, and Bolin Creeks. Under Phase II of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program, the discharge of stormwater that degrades water quality downstream will require a permit issued to each municipality larger than 10,000 people. Prior studies in the Cape Fear Watershed, of which the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is a part, have identified impervious surfaces and urban land uses as the root cause of these problems.

Other new Federal programs (Total Maximum Daily Load, (TMDL)) will also require that contributing watersheds reduce the loads of key pollutants, such as nitrogen and phosphorous, to improve water quality downstream. Their implementation will mitigate the degradation of aquatic habitats in small local streams, where the impacts are first experienced. Silt-covered stream bottoms, eroded streambanks and water bodies choked with aquatic vegetation, all reflect the problems of urban runoff on local drainage.

All applications for Phase II permits must be received by the North Carolina Division of Water Quality (DWQ) before March 1, 2003. It is this urgency that drives many of the recommendations of the Environmental Component. The increased development proposed by the Comprehensive Master Plan has been reviewed and modified to help to ensure that there is no further impact to the quality and quantity of water — both upstream and downstream.

A view of Battle Creek in Battle Park, a significant natural area of North Campus. (Figure 8)
Health Affairs area showing over 70% impervious cover. (Figure 9)
Existing Surface Permeability (Figure 10)

In contrast to the management of water supply and wastewater problems in the past, the solutions to stormwater quality and quantity will not be found in flow rate control and treatment at the end of the stormwater pipe. Better land use and land management decisions provide the starting point for a sustainable water resource management program within each watershed.

As the University and adjacent communities have evolved from a rural to an urban character, with greater density of development and impervious surfaces, there is increasing concern about how the remaining land will be developed, with greater recognition that some of that land should re main undeveloped. In Chapel Hill, 90% of the land within the Town’s Urban Services Area (approximately 16,800 acres) is presently developed. Half of the Town is predominately residential, but the University, classified as institutional land use, comprises 20% of the Town’s land. (Town of Chapel Hill Date Book, February 2000. 5.1) As the single largest landowner in the Orange County region, including large tracts of currently undeveloped land, the University is both master and victim of its land use decisions.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill faces the dilemma of needing to develop the Campus in a way that is both coherent and attractive. The rich natural and cultural heritage of the Campus makes it a special place, with landform and physiography providing the canvas on which this place is developed. The three Campus landscapes include:

  1. the flat, open greens of the Historlcal Core, with their huge relic forest trees, in the northern part of the Main Campus,
  2. the forested slopes and streams, and their narrow floodplains, in the southern part of Main Campus and
  3. the broad floodplains and sleep bluffs of the Mason Farm property.

These critical landscape elements, if protected and restored, will continue to provide a green framework for the buildings and related facilities unique to the Chapel Hill Campus. They will also play a vital role in protecting the water resources into which they drain. From an institutional perspective, it is these elements of the Campus landscape that are remembered and treasured, by both students and alumni, as a special quality of the University.

Relic forest trees of the Historic Core of the Main Campus. (Figure 11)
Forested slopes of South Campus. (Figure 12)