Weyrick: Albemarle, Stanly should embrace ‘smart growth’

In a presentation to Albemarle City Council on Aug. 7, Charlotte realtor Carla Weyrick, a Stanly County native, spoke regarding concerns with the city’s and county’s “minimal” regulations on riparian buffers, and how lessons learned in Mecklenburg County could help benefit Stanly and its municipalities.

“I’ve spent the last 60 days carrying out due diligence for the citizens of Stanly County,” said Weyrick, stating she had spoken with officials from the N.C. Department of Transportation, N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Stanly Soil and Water Conservation District.

Among concerns with stormwater runoff that results in flooding, Weyrick noted an inconsistency between the city and county regulations (30 feet vs. 35 feet) of a minimum vegetative buffer along streams where development is taking place.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, such buffers “slow runoff and absorb excess water, which reduces peak flows and can lessen downstream flooding.”

Weyrick added that wider buffers are being adopted in nearby areas experiencing rapid development.

“Mecklenburg, Cabarrus, Union and Iredell counties have implemented a minimum 50 foot buffer,” Weyrick said, and added that Denver (in Lincoln County) will increase its buffer requirement to 50 feet in 2024.

For Albemarle and Stanly County, Weyrick observed that the watershed flow into Long Lake (City Lake) extends approximately 17 miles upstream into Long Creek in the New London and Richfield areas, as well as the Rockwell and Mt. Pleasant.

“There is lots of farmland up there, but development of some of this land is taking place,” she said, noting that 241 new homes have been built in Rockwell and Mt. Pleasant since 2017, and 182 in Richfield, New London, Misenheimer and Albemarle during the same time.

“As development in these areas move toward Long Creek and streams that flow into it, it will contribute to flooding,” she said.

Outdated flood plain maps are also a concern, according to Weyrick, who used an illustration of a flooded house in Lancaster, South Carolina which had been built three months earlier and is 200 feet from the defined FEMA floodplain.

She then exhibited flood plain maps for City Lake Drive in Albemarle (the area in which she grew up and owns property) from 2008 compared to 2012, showing the high water mark that has been exceeded as recently as June.

“Tthe floodplain maps come from FEMA … I don’t want this happening to new homes or existing homes in our community,” she said before observing that ordinances need to be consistent across jurisdictions to be effective.

“For anyone to get a program to be written together for ordinances and enforcement, we are going to have to hire more staff on both the county and city levels,” said Weyrick. “That’s going to require an engineer, two more enforcement people and a good secretary, because as you put these ordinances together, you’re going to need the staff to enforce these rules.”
Weyrick also noted that rapid development can disturb protected species and wetlands.

“I talked with the Army Corps of Engineers. They said, ‘We won’t say (officially) until we are asked to come out there, but we know there are habitats in there (City Lake Drive and City Lake Park area) with protected species; we know there are bald eagles,’ ” said Weyrick, who said she had spotted one in the area a few weeks earlier.

“They (Army Corps of Engineers) don’t get pulled into the process until a development gets approved,” she added, at which point they go into the area and determine if there are protected species or wetlands.

Weyrick noted wetlands in the area, providing a recent photo of property along Bobcat Road showing evidence consistent with wetlands, just north of an 86-acre proposed development along City Lake Drive.

Possible solutions lie in “smart growth,” according to Weyrick.

“We need to build trust with residents, and approach this by taking small steps.”

One potential method of preserving riparian buffers is the development of greenways, said Weyrick, citing the Carolina Thread Trail project as an example.

“They work with developers, real estate agents and landowners,” said Weyrick, using an example from the “River District” in Gaston County.

“They (Carolina Thread Trail) went in with the developers and the city and county planning officials and collaborated to create a greenway there.”

Weyrick envisioned a greenway connecting downtown with Don Montgomery Park, City Lake Park and Stanly Community College that could help in preservation of riparian buffers and green space, as well as accomplishing connectivity.

“It would go from Montgomery Park, up Efird Street, and along N.C. 73 to City Lake, then up City Lake Drive, along the 86 acres (proposed development) and on to Stanly Community College,” she said.

“I’m invested in this town,” Weyrick said in closing, “but we’ve got to figure out how to slow down and manage our growth.”

Mayor Ronnie Michael offered comments after the meeting.

“The information on how development in and around Albemarle may impact our management of stormwater is helpful as we implement our plans, however, some of the issues that Mrs. Weyrick discussed, such as those involving DOT or the Army Corps of Engineers, are matters we (City of Albemarle) would not be involved in,” Michael said.