LETTERS / Some of the Issues to Consider Regarding the Proposed Valle Crucis School Site

Published Monday, September 23, 2019 at 3:16 pm

Dear Editor,

I’ve lived in Valle Crucis on property adjacent to the Proposed Hodges site for 35 years. As a long term resident I have numerous concerns about the the proposed site for a new Valle Crucis School.

Of primary concern is increased impervious surface area due to construction of the building, parking lots and driveways, and paved playgrounds . Rainwater can no longer be absorbed into the soil. This will lead to greater runoff at higher velocity, and flood potential on surrounding property and properties downstream, most notably the Valle Crucis Park. Runoff may also carry more pollutants to the small trout stream that bisects the property and also the Watauga River. There is also potential impact on the groundwater table and well water quality.

Also of great concern is a new sewer system and water treatment facilities required to service 425 + people and the effluent being released into the flood zone and watershed. There is already a system in place on the current site.

The proposed 14.4 acre Hodges site is under contract for 1.1 million dollars. That’s $76,736 per acre. Tax value is only $7,416 per acre. Classified R1-Residential. Why is the contract is for 10 times that value? Yes, the tax value sounds under valued. Maybe there is an agricultural exemtion. My families comparable10 acres, bordering the south side the Hodges property is valued at $23,000 per acre, still
3 1/3 times less than the contract price. $76,736 of taxpayers money per acre for land designated Special Flood Hazard Area is beyond ration.

According to the FEMA Flood Maps most of Hodges property is designated Special Flood Hazard Area(SFHA). Half of that area is a designated floodway which are extremely hazardous areas due to the velocity of floodwaters that have erosion potential and carry debris and potential projectiles. This limits most all construction. The other half is designated Flood Zone AE, commonly known as the 100 year flood zone. On the edge of 100 year flood zone is an area of moderate risk. On August 7, the Watauga Democrat quoted Scott Elliott saying “ the current site when combined with Valle Landing would only have .44 acres completely out of the flood plain with triple that amount on the Hodges site”. That means less than 1 1/2 acres are clear of any flood zone and developable without restrictions. Since that area borders on Broadstone Rd on one side and private property on the other it will be subject to setback requirements, significantly reducing that 1 1/2 acres. 1.1 million dollars seems like a lot of our tax dollars for less than 1 1/2 acres of easily developable land. This is an irresponsible use of taxpayers money.

The Public Schools of North Carolina Facilities Guidelines published in 2014 by the NC State Board of Education calls for 10 Developable Acres for K-6 school and 15 Developable acres for 5-8 school. Combined that’s 25 developable acres. If on-site water or sewer is required, substantial additional acreage may be required. The guidelines are not strict requirements, but it seems to me that 1.5 acres versus 25 +

acre recommended guideline is not adequate. “The Public Schools of North Carolina Facilities Guidelines has been developed to provide school systems and designers with useful and reliable design information use as a basis for new schools, additions, and renovations. We believe that these guidelines will enhance the ability of local school systems to plan effective and efficient facilities which maximize instructional opportunities for students.” 1.5 acres for K-8 does not come close to meeting the guidelines. Ignoring the guidelines seems irresponsible .

On June 9 this summer the Watauga River had a flood crest of 15.39 feet measured at the Sugar Grove NOAA station not far downstream of Valle Crucis. Floodwaters covered the floodway and partially covered the Zone AE area. There have been 14 floods measured higher than the June flood and the historic flood of 40 crested at 29.6 feet on 8/13/1940. That’s almost twice the depth of what we experienced in June. It’s safe to say that a flood of that depth would be devastating to Valle Crucis and the proposed site. There has been lots of development in the watershed in the last 25 years and we already have much less permeable land available to absorb rainfall. The June storm dumped about 12” in the area. It’s not uncommon to see rain events greater than that and we can expect more flooding in the future with greater impact.

Also to be considered is the added cost to build in a flood zone in order to meet special regulations in order to mitigate flood damage and cost of insurance following completion. I was quoted $6000/year for a $180,000 flood policy on property adjacent to the proposed site. What will cost be to insure the school?

Residents and property owners adjacent to and nearby the property will feel the brunt of the impact. In addition to the environmental impacts already discussed, we will be subject to bright security light all night every night. Water runoff will flow downhill to my property. There will also be noise and pollution associated with hundreds of cars daily and traffic, which is already a problem, will likely worsen. The current school traffic pattern utilizes HWY 194 in addition to Broadstone Road. Only Broadstone will be available for access on the Hodges site. The Facilities Guidelines also state that frontage on 2 or more roads are best. Of course, traffic and noise will be at it’s worst during the years of construction throughout the valley. In addition to the negative impact on quality of life, property values directly adjacent to the school will likely decrease. As of now, there has been no consideration given to current residents and property owners living adjacent or nearby the proposed site regarding the choosing of the site. Why wasn’t the community consulted prior to putting this land under contract?

Wildlife will also be disrupted. The sparsely developed land across from the Mast Farm Inn along with the Hodges property provides a corridor for wildlife to move from the mountain across Broadstone to the river and back. The current population of wild turkey, owls, raptors, deer, fox, and bobcat will be displaced by the destruction of habitat, construction, noise and lighting. There is also a trout stream on the Hodges property as well as the fishery in the Watauga River. The North Carolina Trout Resource Management Plan states that threats to trout habitat include land disturbing activities

associated with residential and commercial developments, road construction, and impediments to fish passage.

In 1990 the Valle Crucis Historic District was designated as North Carolina’s first rural historic district. Included in it’s purposes listed are to preserve and protect the heritage, promote the conservation of, and foster civic beauty and amenity of Valle Crucis. I don’t think the addition a large new institutional building and vast paved area as you enter the historic district does well to foster civic beauty and amenity. The old school sits in the heart of the valley. What will be done with it if a new one is built on another site?

Will it sit vacant for 7 years like the high school?

The Valle Crucis School has been here for more than 80 years. I understand that the board of education has spent a fair amount of time looking for a suitable site. I read that the new Watauga High School cost 80 million dollars. I assume the cost of the new Valle Crucis School will also be astronomic. I think it would be wise to continue searching until a site is found that meets acreage requirements, is not in a Special Hazard Flood Zone, will not increase the risk of flood on neighboring properties, will not have negative impacts on the environment and Watauga River Watershed, will alleviate traffic concerns rather than exacerbate them, and have less impact on existing residents nearby. That’s a lot of money to spend on a project far less than ideal.

However, if the board of education is willing to build on a small site in a Special Hazard Flood Zone, why not use the current property in addition to the Valle Landing site where some of the infrastructure already in place can be used, including the water, sewer and septic systems, parking lots and playgrounds. Some of the current school may be upgraded. A flood mitigation project controlling Dutch Creek may be used that would also provide benefit the the Mast Store Annex and Valle Crucis Park.

Considering all the shortcomings and potential hazards and impacts of the Hodges site and the astronomical price to purchase this land in a Special Flood Hazard Area, it is irrational, unreasonable and frankly not smart to build a school on this property.

Here are a few final questions:

  1. What is the projected cost to build on the proposed Hodges site in a Special Flood Hazard Area compared to building on the current school site plus the Valle Landing property? How does that compare to building on a possible alternate property of proper size and not in a flood zone?
  2. What is the cumulative acreage or square footage of impervious surface that will be added on the proposed site?
  3. What is the estimated cost to build a new water,septic and sewer system in a Special Flood Hazard Area?
  1. What were the results of the environmental impact study, who performed the study, and when can we see them?
  2. What are the plans and timeline for the old school site if it is not used?
  3. Why not consider an alternate property outside of the Valle Crucis Historic District?
  4. The cost/acre for this land is way out of line with any bare land acreage in the flood plain that I’m aware of. May we see the appraisals? I assume there are multiple as is customary. Please publish the appraisals for all to see.
  5. Why has the public been left out of the equation until 5 months after the decision to enter into a contract? There has been no consideration given to local and adjacent residents.

Public Schools of North Carolina Facilities Guidelines: School Site
Guidelines
Grades Developable Acreage Notes

K – 6 10 5 – 8 15 7 – 9 20 9 – 12 30

+1/100 ADM + 1/100 ADM

+ 1/100 ADM + 1/100 ADMA

www.ncleg.net/PED/Reports/documents/SchoolConstruction/AppendixA.pdf

 

Compiled and written by Bill Pressly

 

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