Main Campus Environmental Structure (Figure 27)

The patterns of existing land use and development in each of the three major Campus areas are best understood by considering how they evolved. The historical development in the northern portion of the Campus reflects and respects the natural physiography of the land. By contrast, new development in the southern portion has tended to obliterate landforms, streams and natural vegetation.

Main Campus – North

North Campus is the Historic Core of the University and was developed as a 19th century American Village where houses and public buildings surround large, open, green spaces. Like the villages it symbolically represents, the Historical Campus was developed on the broad flat uplands, with the only stream valley of significance preserved as Battle Creek Park. The development form is characterized by:

  • Low buildings that define large, green, open spaces. These common, open spaces have a continuous floor of Iawn, punctuated with informal groupings of large canopy trees.
  • Buildings are set in a matrix of green with green fronts, sides and backs.
  • There is an equal ratio of building to green space.
  • The Campus is connected by myriad pedestrian walkways that include the sidewalks of tree-lined streets.

Main Campus – South

South Campus is located in the transition area between the uplands of the Historic Core and the lowlands of Mason Farm. The rolling hills are highly dissected by short, broad stream valleys with steep slopes. Many of these stream valleys were filled and built over. This development pattern is characterized by:

  • Wide, curving arterial roads that divide South Campus into superblocks.
  • Landforms of hills and valleys that have fostered a rudimentary pedestrian network.
  • Large multistoried buildings and undefined open space.
  • Buildings and impervious surfaces that cover more than half the land in many sub-basins.
  • Steep slopes largely left in forest remnants with stream valleys filled for parking.

Since most of the proposed master plan development will occur in the southern end of Campus, a desire to mitigate future impacts led to the formulation of several case studies which integrated new land use and stormwater management strategies into the Comprehensive Master Plan. Impacts to the water system of adjacent sites posed by existing and proposed development were identified.

Low buildings define large, green, open spaces on North Campus. (Figure 28)
Large surface parking areas built in the stream valleys. (Figure 29)

Mason Farm Property

Environmental Structure: Mason Farm Property (Figure 30)

The 1,356 acre University property known as the Mason Farm Property is a part of the 3,800 acre Mason Farm/Morgan Creek Natural Area. This significant wildlife refuge is the least fragmented large tract of bottomland remaining in the Jordan Lake wildlife system. Forty percent (40%) of the Mason Farm property lies in the 100-year floodplain and is the lowest elevation in Orange County, where all water flows before reaching Jordan Lake. Buildings and impervious surfaces cover less than 1/8 of the land in this area where the newest development has been office parks and golf course recreation in the low hills just above the floodplain to the northeast. Approximately 184 acres have been identified as suitable for development in a report titled Study of University of North Carolina Outlying Properties, JJR, 1996. That study states that while the tract is well located for regional access and already committed to a variety of uses, the University is also committed to preserving and protecting the environmentally sensitive areas. That same study lists the existing uses of the Mason Farm property as:

  • Mason Farm Biological Reserve, North Carolina Botanical Garden and associated Arboreta (558 acres)
  • Finley Golf Course (239 acres)
  • Friday Continuing Education Center
  • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Hospitals Administration Building
  • Cone Kenfield Tennis Center
  • Municipal Park and Ride Lot
  • OWASA Water Treatment Plant
  • The Ronald McDonald House
  • The Faculty Recreation Club and other recreational facilities
  • Center for School Leadership
  • Joint Day Care Center
  • WUNC Radio Station
The physiography of The Mason Farm Property is dominated by the broad, flat floodplain of Morgan Creek. (Figure 31)

Gently rounded hills with steep slopes on the eastern sides surround the low-lying, broad, flat, floodplain of Morgan Creek to form the North Carolina Botanical Garden and the Mason Farm Biological Reserve. As a critical part of a larger regional resource, the values of the Mason Farm Biological Reserve will become increasingly significant to the University and to the larger community as the surrounding unprotected natural areas are lost to development. These values include:

Mason Farm Property: Hydrologic Soils Group (Figure 32)

Below is a description of the significant plant communities provided by the North Carolina Botanical Garden and managed by them within the boundaries of the property:

  • The Piedmont/Coastal Plain Heath Bluff, occurring in four areas along Morgan Creek on the flank of Laurel Hill. This community type is uncommon and local throughout its range.
  • Piedmont/Mountain Swamp Forest, making up much of the Big Oak Woods. This community type, always rare, has been greatly reduced in extent and now is extremely rare.  The occurrence of an old growth example of this size without significant hydrologic alteration is unique in North Carolina and probably through out the southeastern Piedmont.
  • Oak – Hickory Forest, occurring on diabase dikes on the westem side of Mason Farm. This example is one of the most mature in the state.
  • Piedmont/Low Mountain Alluvial Forest, occurring along Morgan Creek below the Heath Bluffs. As a well-developed mature example of a Piedmont community, this forest  provides an important buffer for the very fragile Heath Bluffs across the creek that cannot tolerate exposure to drying winds and removal of the canopy.
  • Acidic Oak-Hickory Forest, occurring on the south-facing slopes of the Nature Trail Hill. This is a high quality, mature forest remnant that provides a buffer for the sensitive rhododendron community in the Hunt Arboretum on me opposite side of Morgan Creek.
The maturity (old growth) and size of the significant plant communities on the Mason Farm Property provide unique educational and long-term biological research opportunities for the University. In addition, the floodplain of Morgan Creek with its broad, wet meadows and wet forests, filter pollutants and hold migrating sediments, provide flood storage and biological cleansing for the waters of Jordan Lake.
The Mason Farm/Morgan Creek Natural Area is the largest and most significant wildlife refuge within the entire New Hope/Jordan Lake system. This refuge supports a number of North Carolina rare and endangered species.

“Here biologists have found 800 species of plants, 216 species of birds, 29 species of mammals, 28 species of fish, 28 species of reptiles, 23 species of amphibians, and 67 species of butterflies. These numbers include six regionally rare animal species …and three plant species that occur here are considered rare ….”

(North Carolina Botanical Garden, A guide to the Old Farm Trail).

As a part of this significant area, the University property is a priceless statewide heritage, a future reserve for the University for ecological studies and the North Carolina Botanical Garden, and a model public facility for the University. It is also vital to the preservation of water quality and quantity in Jordan Lake. The land use and management priorities should be organized here to protect the Morgan Creek floodplain and ensure the preservation of the significant forest communities in the floodplain and on the forested slopes.

Lowland forest at Mason Farm Biological Reserve. (Figure 33)
Enviromental Constraints (Figure 34)

The University property considered in this study — The Historic Core, the Mason Farm Property, and Main Campus-South — are each located on different landforms; essentially uplands, lowlands, and the transition between the two. These differences in landform create various environmental constraints to development; constraints that do not strictly prohibit development opportunities but make it much more difficult and expensive. More importantly, the existence of these constraints result in significant loss of land and water resources if new development is imposed on the land. Three goals were developed to help guide the integration of the Comprehensive Master Plan design with the Environmental Master Plan recommendations:

  1. To develop the southern end of the Campus with required University facilities while protecting, preserving, and restoring key components of the environmental system.
  2. To preserve the significant natural resources of the Mason Farm Property.
  3. To repair the eroding fabric of the Historic Core of the Campus.

For the University this means that new development would 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 would be used to restore drainage channels, and streams and their floodplains, and to reforest slopes presently in buildings, paving or turf.

Unlike most university campuses, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has retained much of its natural setting and integrated the forested landscape into a remarkably pleasant Campus. (Figure 35)
Ehringhaus Field is one of two areas on the Campus where a buried stream could be “daylighted.” (Figure 36)

The Historic Core of the University developed on a wide plateau to the north where few stream valleys dissect this broad flat upland. Much of this land was repeatedly cleared of the native woodlands as part of the area’s agricultural past. However, several large remnant trees from the original forest can still be found on the significant open spaces of this area of the Campus at Polk and McCorkle Places and in the Coker Arboretum. These mature trees are especially important to the landscape quality in the Historic Campus providing a sense of age and continuity. This land was well-suited for the pattern of large T-shaped or M-shaped buildings that defined these central greens. These historic greens are designed as large shadow lawns with a carpet of turf shaded by large canopy trees. As the need for new facilities increased, the University grew to the south with intensive development of the Hospital and Health Sciences resulting in a landscape with a very high percentage of impervious surfaces.

Mason Farm/Morgan Creek Natural Area (Figure 37)

The Environmental Structure Maps (Figure 27, 30) identify key components of the natural infrastructure and the cultural landscape. The natural components — water, vegetation, soils, etc. — are living systems. Degradation and fragmentation compromise the integrity of these systems and their ability to function. In general, most conventional development ignores these systems; they are considered unimportant and expendable. Land is often unnecessarily graded, disrupting soil, vegetation and water systems. Hills are leveled and berms and mesas created in flat-land. Vegetation is also often unnecessarily bulldozed away.

A critical natural component that shapes the southern portion of Campus is the steep slopes. Although the entire University site was initially cleared for farming, the steeper slopes eventually grew back as forest when these more marginal lands were abandoned. Today the wooded hillsides of the Coker Pinetum, Kenan Stadium, the high-rise dorms, and other areas of the southern end of Campus are a very important part of what makes the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill a unique and memorable place.

The Mason Farm property is a part of The Mason Farm/Morgan Creek Natural Area and is the largest and most significant wildlife refuge within the entire New Hope/Jordan Lake system. This refuge supports a number of North Carolina rare and endangered species. While no future development is planned in this area, several modifications to existing structures could demonstrate a number of the better management practices recommended for consideration in this Plan.

It is also recommended that the University consider several small but important extensions for protection. These extensions are in lands owned by the University and are directly adjacent to lands presently managed by the North Carolina Botanical Garden. Guaranteed preservation and better management of these areas would directly improve the health of Meeting of the Waters Creek, Morgan Creek and Jordan Lake. These areas include:

  • The corridor along N.C. Route 54 from Glenwood Elementary School to the North Carolina Botanical Garden. This land is no longer a part of the Finley Golf Course and could be managed as a greenway corridor with a collaborative programming serving a variety of needs.
  • Coker Pinetum extension – a property isolated by Manning Drive to the southeast, Ehringhaus Dormitory drive and parking lot to the west, and the Coker Pinetum on the north. This forested, very steeply sloped area is critical to watershed protection and restoration efforts.
Buildings framed in forest on South Campus. (Figure 38)
Lowland meadows at Mason Farm Biological Reserve. (Figure 39)
Smith Center Area Case Study: Plan showing environmentally sensitive areas of South Campus. (Figure 40)
Smith Center Area Case Study: Sketch showing recommendations to the Master Plan which would protect identified natural resources. (Figure 41)

One goal of the Comprehensive Master Plan was to provide much-needed University facilities, while at the same time protecting, preserving and restoring key components of the environmental system. In the southern portion of Main Campus, proposed new development was re-examined to preserve and, where possible, to restore the riparian corridor, including open, flowing streams, wetlands, flood plain and adjacent steep forested slopes. These steep forested stream valleys are special resources, unique to the southern end of the Campus, and do not exist in the broad flat plateau where the Historic Core is located.

Three proposed development areas were considered as case studies: the new buildings centering on the Dean E. Smith Center, several additional structures comprising Health Affairs South and the new Ramshead Building with the related redevelopment of adjacent Ehringhaus Field. Each of the studies explored opportunities to integrate new land preservation and restoration strategies, as well as provide “better management practices” as part of intensive new development.

The three areas listed below were identified during the master planning process as environmentally sensitive. They all occur on the southern end of Main Campus. Each of these areas presents an opportunity to integrate new land preservation and restoration strategies, as well as better management practices as reflected in the following guidelines:

Smith Center Area

  • Reconnect and restore the riparian area of stream valley fragments to improve water quality and mitigate flooding.
  • Develop the valley riparian section as the major pedestrian network, recreational amenity and green commons for this area.
  • Locate building site on the upland plateaus and slope terraces with pedestrian walkways that bridge the valleys rather than cutting or filling them.
  • Organize buildings to create courtyards and small greens and to maximize stormwater infiltration or capture and reuse of stormwater.

Health Affairs South including Manning Drive

  • Do not build on steep forested slopes or within the small ravines.
  • Use lawn as a ground cover only in flat areas.
  • Create infiltration and recharge beds under porous paving parking areas where the conditions allow.

Ramshead and Bell Tower

  • Retrofit existing problem areas to convert impervious surfaces to permeable ones.
  • Restore Ehringhaus Field by raising the field level with well-drained soil, in conjunction with daylighting the stream in a new bed at the southern edge.
  • Preserve the historical character of the stadium by preserving and enhancing the forested slopes wrapping the buildings.
  • Foster pedestrian connections between the north and the south of Main Campus.

These three case study areas were revised in the Comprehensive Master Plan to reflect the following key recommendations:

  1. Significant natural areas are protected from development.
  2. Two areas of the Campus have been identified where buried streams can be daylighted – Ehringhaus Field and the area north of the Smith Center. These stream corridors could become a part of the pedestrian network of the Campus.
  3. The final design of the southern portion of the Campus reflects the rolling topography of the land and the proposed buildings are sited away from the steep forested areas.