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Hint of watershed change worries group
Smart Growth wary of Big Creek talk
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Forsyth County News


Forsyth County appears poised to change some protections for the Big Creek watershed, which concerns a nonprofit community group.

At a meeting Tuesday night, members of Smart Growth Forsyth discussed recent events that could signal changes for the southwestern Forsyth watershed.

“They’ve fired the first shots in trying to get rid of the Big Creek watershed,” said Robert Slaughter, managing director.

In submitting the proposed comprehensive plan update for state review, commissioners recently voted to remove wording that addressed limits on development in the watershed.

Commissioners instead want to review the situation.

Chairman Brian Tam announced that the county also would hold a town hall meeting to discuss any standards.

Commissioner Patrick Bell requested that an engineer attend an upcoming work session to discuss new technologies that may be equal to or better than the current methods.

Spanning three counties, the Big Creek watershed has an overall 25 percent limitation on impervious surface areas such as parking lots.

Forsyth’s unified development code defines those as “a manmade structure or surface which prevents the infiltration of stormwater into the ground below the structure or surface.”

A Smart Growth study estimates more than 20 percent of the Big Creek watershed in the county has been approved for impervious surface coverage.

Claudia Castro, deputy director of Smart Growth, said the issue of reconsidering those limitations came up during the planning board’s public hearing on the comprehensive plan.

Several local developers, attorneys and engineers brought up the matter during the October session and were successful in getting a 2-1 vote from the planning board to remove the language from the community agenda, Castro said.

Those speaking called the requirements “outdated” and the 25 percent number “arbitrary,” and called for a look into new technologies, she said.

Removing the current standards could clear the way for more development.

Slaughter explained that the developers’ “feeling is that they can do through technology either the same or better than the 25 percent impervious surface area.”

“When this is all said and done, they’ve completely missed the point,” he added. “This is not about stormwater management. It’s about percolating the water supply.”

The environmentally sensitive area has been identified as a source of groundwater. County plans anticipate drawing from the watershed for supply needs, said Jack Gleason, environmental compliance officer.

“All three scenarios of providing water for the next 50 years include taking groundwater, or aquifer recharge zones, and that’s being ignored,” Gleason said.

The group also discussed the guidelines for watershed protection as outlined by the state and wondered if changing the county’s regulations could go against those.

“We’re not against alternate criteria,” Slaughter said. “The problem is there is no alternate criteria that has been presented, that are functional, that are in place, that are part of the law and being executed.”

He said Smart Growth should look into solutions for incentivizing those property owners in the area who protect the watershed.

The group plans to participate in any public meetings addressing the issue of appropriate regulations, which Castro expects will arise early next year.

Members also held elections for next year’s officers on Tuesday, naming Castro the group’s new managing director.

Slaughter opted to step down from the post, though he plans to remain an active member.