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Op-Ed: Biologist Questions River Study

Photo: Lucas Berrini, 2008 (Flickr)

Photo: Lucas Berrini, 2008 (Flickr)

by Vince Bellis

It would be unfortunate if the Tar River study moves forward in the absence of an attempt to first solicit advice from local sources at East Carolina University. ECU offers expertise in planning, business, wetland ecology, tourism and related areas by professionals familiar with eastern North Carolina. Advice from these sources should be sought before an outside consultant was hired.

I conducted a cursory evaluation of the Greenville portion of the Tar River last June, examining the geology, current land use, ecosystem distribution and governmental constraints concerning development along the Tar River.

I concluded that passive water-based, environmental restoration/education and historical interpretation will provide the best opportunities for investment in river development.

Only a very small portion of the Tar River frontage within the city limits is available for development. Development on the north side of the river is constrained by extensive wetlands under Section 404 of the EPA’s Clean Water Act and the North Carolina riparian buffer requirement. Suitable properties on that side of the river have already been developed as water treatment plant, airport, bridge approach and River Park North.

The south side of the Tar River has a broad floodplain and wetland west of Moyewood Subdivision. Likewise the river bank east of Warren Street (Off Leash Dog Park) is swamp forest wetland threaded by the South Tar River Greenway. Most of the river bank east of Elm Street is federal (FEMA) buyout property from Hurricane Floyd and cannot be developed.

Of the eight miles, counting both sides of the river, defined in the proposed River Study, only about two and one-half miles have potential for development beyond passive recreation. The developable segment extends from US-13 to Jarvis Street. The two largest current land uses in this segment include the west Greenville neighborhood between Nash and Contentnea Streets and the Greenville Town Common.

It might be anticipated that the trend toward increased multi-family rental housing near the University will continue and may be expressed as conversion of older single family homes in the Nash/Contentnea area to higher density rental properties.

If major development is to take place along the corridor defined in the proposed river study it will require redevelopment of one of these areas that are already committed to a defined use.  The political question is whether to displace people living in a single family neighborhood or to clutter up an open space having considerable historic and recreational value.

The Tar River Study should be ‘put on hold’ until its scope and intent can be better defined.

Vince Bellis is a retired ECU biologist.

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Responses (5)

  1. Ann Eleanor says:

    I agree with Mr. Bellis and suggest that the city’s community development staff be included in any study. It’s my understanding that including the town common in properties available for development has little or no effect on potential developers. The Town Common and riverfront area seems most appropriate for low impact amenities that use but do not abuse this water resource.

  2. Carol Collins says:

    Vince, Excellent article!

    I would further add that your considerations need to be considered in the upcoming Horizons Land Use Plan Update, where citizens throughout the area have input.

    We need to be sure that we do not spend $200000 unnecessarily and forego really essential projects.

    Given that we already have a plan for the Common (a plan resulting from widespread citizen input), we might prefer to spend the $200K implementing some of the recomendations in this current plan.

    In addition, with the Council’s January planning workshop just around the corner, it would be wonderful to wait until then to discuss the advisability of proceeding with this $200 K study, in the context of long range planning (Horizons) and current recommendations (current Town Common Plan).

    After all, if the council spends $200K, the return to citizens should be $200K spent on the desires they have already expressed in the current Plan and in the Horizons Plan. That is, city government ought to support what citizens (via long and thorough hearings for citizen input) have already agreed is important.

  3. Myron Caspar says:

    I believe that Vince has given the New City Council something sensible to think very carefully about before spending 200K on another packet of paper.

  4. Candy Pearce says:

    I also agree with Vince. Not only that DENR, PTRF and the Coastal Federation have tons of information and studies that have been done. The Tar River has a “river keeper” through PTRF. I think there is more that enough information available without the cost of another STUDY.

  5. Dennis Mitchell says:

    This study takes a holistic view of the entire river and how our community can benefit from it environmentally, educationally and economically. There has never been such a comprehensive study that could have a huge impact on the quality of life of our city. This is a groundbreaking initiative that could be a huge plus. This is not just study but the beginning of a citizen led framework that not only protects this resource but also plan for additional ways to access its wonders. This study unlike previous ones passed by former councils comes with a phased plan for funding as well. As far the talent at ECU to do it… yes we have professors in every area from planning to environmental design but this firm is an experienced comprehensive entity that has done this before. I hope this is not the beginning of this council rolling back on progress made in the last two years. We all want a successful and prosperous city and doing ground breaking initiatives like this one will get us closer to that goal.

    While to most people doing a study seems like wasteful spending, it is a means to conduct careful planning to ensure the results are viable and fiscally responsible. So spend a little more on the front end in order not to have a disaster on the back end.

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