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Floodplain permit slows Publix project

Jim Barnett points to a grill at the opening of a culvert. A logjam could create a dam in a heavy rainstorm, Barnett says. Jim Barnett points to a grill at the opening of a culvert. A logjam could create a dam in a heavy rainstorm, Barnett says.

Although the new Publix on Greenville Highway was supposed to be under construction by now, the building site is empty of heavy equipment.

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Those eager for the entry of one more heavyweight contender at ground-zero of the local grocery wars have been asking whether the project is off. It’s not. But it has been delayed by the developer’s failure to get a permit to build in a floodplain. City officials say the store builder, Halvorsen Development Corp., is following a logical process for the next step.
After failing to get so-called “no-rise” permit, Halvorsen applied on Oct. 25 for a Conditional Letter of Map Revision, which acknowledges that the floodplain could be broadened, though not in a harmful way.
“The level doesn’t rise but the width of the floodplain is changed” in maps, said City Manager John Connet. “It’s less than a foot but there’s still a change with the addition of the building so they have to go through this process.”
Tom Vincent, president of Halvorsen Development, says the builder has had to use the CLOMAR route before.
“It’s a normal piece of the process that we need to go through,” he said. “There’s no reason to think that we wouldn’t get that. We’ve done them before on other projects. It just takes a little longer in the process than if we had gotten the no-rise approved. We’ve done many of them. Our guys are all over it and it’s tracking. It’s just a little bit extra time. We hoped to have gotten started later this year but it’ll be sometime next year.”

Longstanding flood problems

The Publix project and the new Ingles has drawn the attention of adjoining property owners and the Hendersonville City Council.
Jim Barnett, whose real estate office is directly across Greenville Highway from the Publix property, told the city council that it had a rare opportunity to address the recurring flooding of Mud Creek in the area of Greenville and Spartanburg highways. The City Council directed city engineers to study whether city-owned land behind the Publix site could be used for a retention pond that would lessen flooding.
“We drain a 25-sqare mile area all the way to Jeter Mountain and funnels Mud Creek and Johnson ditch and by the time the water gets to us it’s such a quantity in a significant enough rain that area’s going to flood. Nothing we could do on our site that would help prevent flooding in that area because there’s such a quantity of water” in a 100- or 500-year flood event.
Barnett says the city is missing the point.
It’s the more typical heavy rainstorms that cause problems, he says. He thinks adding a retention pond upstream would store enough rainwater to make a difference.
“You’re just wasting your time on a 100- or 500-year flood. What can you do about that?” Barnett said. “I’m more concerned about the smaller floods.”
The realty company owner also sees potential problems downstream at the new Ingles, where the developer got approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to replace an open 12-foot deep drainage ditch with a 8x16-foot covered culvert. The contractor has now installed a grill at the upstream opening to prevent debris from flowing into the pipe.
“There’s no way the culvert’s going to handle that same amount of water,” he said. “I can’t see how it would be a bit of an improvement. And there’s a possibility that if that grill gets stopped up it could be a whole lot worse than it is now.”
Over the past several years, the city and developers have made some progress in flood control. When the Fresh Market parking lot was renovated in 2013, a developer cleared out the culvert that covers Mud Creek. Downstream around South Grove Street, the city has used the county’s beaver control program to remove beaver dams and relocate beavers.

Site ready to go

A contractor has removed seven large and three smaller sheds from the building site. In meet the city floodplain ordinance, it plans to truck in fill dirt to raise a 60,000-square-foot area two feet above the flood elevation. The CLOMAR permit would be a major hurdle toward groundbreaking. The developer still must acquire property to the south to make room for a turn lane.
If FEMA approves the CLOMAR application, Halvorsen would submit a notice to be published in the newspaper that because of the new building “base flood elevations will increase along Mud Creek when compared to the effective model” in an area 6,100 feet upstream of the White Street bridge. But the notice adds: “… a comparison of existing conditions do not reflect an actual increase in flood elevations.”
Although the trouble Halvorsen has encountered is with state and federal floodplain regulators, Connet says the city has not tried to pressure the FEMA or its N.C. counterpart, the Floodplain Mapping Program, to OK something that would jeopardize downstream property owners.
“The bottom line is we’re very sensitive to flooding in that area,” Connet says. “The city doesn’t want to do anything to make flooding any worse than it is today. The state reviews all of our no-rise studies. We would work with them and try to get them to resolve” any problems. “But at end of day they could not meet the no-rise (standard) and that’s why they’re trying to get a CLOMAR.”
“Honestly I think they thought it would be a little easier than that but we’ve tried to be very straight-forward with them” about the regulatory process and the city’s concern about flooding, Connet said.
Councilman Jeff Miller says he supports the position that the flood experts have to greenlight the new Publix.
“I want it done right,” he said. “I’m in favor of the project but not at the expense of everybody that’s been here forever.”
Vincent, Halvorsen’s president, says the company has had no problem with the city.
“No. We’ve got no issues there,” he said. The backup plan for a FEMA permit “was a path that was out there and now we’re on it. The only real impact is from a time perspective. It’s in and it’s tracking. Hopefully we’ll have that shortly and we’ll be off and running.”