In just a few short months, the Chantilly Ecological Sanctuary is scheduled to open. By the end of September, this plot of land running along Briar Creek will be home to a greenway trail (with the greenway system connecting in 2023), a certified water fowl sanctuary and an educational space for Chantilly Montessori School and the community.
This project, which has been in the works since 2008, is aiming to solve the issues caused by water drainage in this area. In the 1960s, the Doral and Cavalier apartment complexes were built in Charlotte’s worst flood zones, and after a period of floods, the city realized something needed to be done.
In 2008, through the Storm Water Services Floodplain Buyout Program, The Cavalier apartment buildings were purchased by the city for $9.6 million, with $3 million going towards tenant relocation and building demolition.
In 2010, half of the Doral Apartment complex was purchased and demolished for $4.7 million, with $1.6 million funding tenant relocation and demolition. FEMA Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grants funded the majority of these acquisitions, with the remaining being covered by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services.
The city has been committed to giving back to the community through this project, from a removal by Habitat for Humanity of all reusable items (appliances, light fixtures, etc.) and the gutted buildings being used for K-9 practice with CMPD.
The problem and solution
The issue with this area is that the flooding is unable to be avoided, which led to the city’s decision to purchase this land and demolish the buildings. The water quality in this area has been deeply affected by the flooding, causing pollution issues and water impairment.
To keep the apartments up and running was to further accrue costs and damages for residents, which led to the decision for acquisition. Zoning laws have changed significantly since the building’s inception and the city hopes to undo the damage already caused.
According to Storm Water Services, the goal of this project is to “turn the most flood-prone buildings in Mecklenburg County into a natural and beneficial floodplain.”
To do this, ponds and wetlands will be added as a venue of water quality enhancements to reduce pollution. Channels of Briar Creek, Edwards Branch and Chantilly Tributary will be restored. Along with this, more than 24 acres of open-space along Briar Creek will be preserved as an ecological sanctuary.
The streams will still flood, but after these improvements, it will no longer be a danger to the site, but a benefit.
How the public can experience it
According to project manager Crystal Taylor, the overall outcome will be “allowing nature to do what nature intended to do.”
Because the flooding cannot be stopped, interventions like erosion levies and other preventative measures have been put into place. The plant life has been specifically chosen to draw in various species in order to create an untouched preserve just outside of Uptown.
Storm Water Services has partnered with the Butterfly Highway, planting flower and grass species that are cut only twice annually and putting into practice what Taylor has instituted in allowing nature to exist uninterrupted.
“Because of the FEMA grants, the land can never be developed or sold, it will always be a natural habitat,” Taylor says. “Eventually, by around 2023, the greenway system will come through this area, giving pedestrians even more to look forward to on their walks. We took a lot of input from Chantilly Montessori School and wanted to provide them with learning opportunities as well. The hope is that eventually this will be incorporated into a neighborhood park.”
While this is not the first project of its kind (Charlotte’s first was in the late 1990s in the Hidden Valley neighborhood), this is the first where various organizations and the public and community have been so involved. That being said, Taylor and her team hope this will be an opportunity for green space in the city and for the public to experience it to the fullest extent.
Photos courtesy of: Charlottenc.gov