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Environmental groups seek voice in development opposition

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The first time Nikki Grumbine saw what was being planned for a small plot of land next to the Bowater building, she knew something had to be done.

Plans call for a 9,000-square-foot office building with an all-glass front rising four stories from the ground between the Reedy River and Japanese Dogwood Lane downtown.

 Grumbine’s first mental images were looking at the building from Falls Park.

“If you are walking on the bridge, it is an astoundingly beautiful look at the falls and this building would have ruined that view,” Grumbine, president of the volunteer group Friends of the Reedy River, said. “The developer said they were going to enhance the view, but we saw it as it would be more of an obstruction.”

But, more importantly to Grumbine, was the potential environmental impacts the building would have sitting just feet from the banks of the Reedy River.

“We are focused on one thing, restoring the river banks and protecting the river,” Grumbine said. “In the city ordinances, they specifically list a buffer zone and when we initially went down to look at the property, it was glaringly obvious there was no buffer zone.”

The buffer zone she refers to is a city ordinance calling for a 50-foot buffer between bodies of water and development.

Another concern with both the Friends of the Reedy River and the Carolina Foothills Garden Club was the potential for damaging stormwater runoff negatively impacting the riverbank.

“Basically, the No. 1 issue we have with the city is that the more pavement you have the more the stormwater hits the river, which is the lowest point of the watershed,” Grumbine said. “You have fuels, pesticides and other pollutants and it scars and erodes the riverbank.”

Frank Holleman, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, wrote letters to city officials on behalf of the Carolina Foothills Garden Club pointing out the 50-foot ordinance issues with the property being developed by Greenville-based Centennial American Properties Inc.

But, Holleman, a former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education, said it was important not to overlook the environmental impacts the project would have on the Reedy River ecosystem.

“It’s not just a legal requirement, but it is common sense,” Holleman said. “The Reedy River is a natural resource for the city and if that river is going to restore itself and not just be a stormwater ditch, which would be a negative, you have to preserve its natural functioning.”

The city is now in the middle of negotiating with Centennial American Properties to halt the building which is part of the larger Camperdown development downtown. Greenville Mayor Knox White said the city has been looking at expanding the green footprint downtown and this small tract of land would help with that mission.

Andrea Cooper, executive director of Upstate Forever, said the city and White “should be commended for taking a position and negotiating.”

“It’s not a done deal with negotiations between the mayor and the developer, so it is important that we keep the pressure on,” Cooper said.

She said the construction of the building does present an environmental hazard to an already fragile ecosystem along the river. Cooper added there is a question over the treatment of stormwater, but the most pressing concern is the proximity of the building to the river.

“There is also the issue of the removal of the trees and those trees protect against pollutants and the soil erosion at the river,” Cooper said. “It is just an environmentally fragile area and so many people and so many groups have worked hard on that area.”

Friends of the Reedy River and Upstate Forever recently launched a petition via social media as a means to get information out and to allow for the public to comment on the proposal. She said it was in an effort to educate because the groups felt most didn’t know what the project entailed.

She said, in around 10 days, more than 1,700 people had signed the petition.

“The residents of Greenville have said that this is not really a great idea,” Grumbine said.

She added it was important to note the objective of the Friends of the Reedy River and other similar groups was not to be “some sort of antagonistic thorn in the side of the city.” The intent was more to bring awareness to a project they felt would do more harm than good to an already fragile ecosystem.

“I think we have to be careful not to slay the goose that lays the golden egg,” Grumbine said. “The Reedy River is one of the overstressed urban waterway and it really needs some help.

“When you bring visitors to Greenville, they go to Falls Park and see the Reedy River and we are interesting in preserving and protecting that.”

Reach Matthew Clark at 864-720-1222.

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