Sat, 14 June 2008
June 14, 2008
The landscape for real estate development is dramatically changing next month when new rules designed to protect area streams and rivers take effect.
New projects will be required to include open space on nearly every site, bigger buffers for streams and new systems for capturing and cleaning rainfall.
Developers are chafing at the law taking effect July 1. They say it will substantially increase the price of future homes, apartments, offices and industrial buildings. City officials say the rules follow federal requirements and provide a long-term benefit that prevents flooding, slows erosion and cleans
Developers contend the
"Pay now, or pay later," says Daryl Hammock, water quality and environmental permitting manager with
The impending change has prompted a surge of applications to
"Since this is a very deadline-oriented business, I expect the last week of June will be the time where we really see an unusually high number of new plan submittals," says Tom Ferguson,
Federal mandates tied to the Clean Water Act required city adoption of stormwater rules by June 2009 for engineering controls for stormwater. The goal is to remove 85% of the pollutants picked up by rain water pooling on pavement before it flows into a city stream.
It was only after three years of negotiating among government staff and the development community that Charlotte City Council found the rules palatable enough for approval in November.
Many developers have been forced to follow the post-construction controls ordinance ahead of the implementation date. That's been the case in the past few years for any project that required a rezoning. For example, Beacon Partners wrestled with the city over a 75,000-square-foot industrial park in north
Now all developers will have to embrace the rules.
Those who haven't realized it are in for a "very unpleasant and expensive surprise," warns real estate consultant Karla Knotts, a local industry figure since 1986.
The dramatic change in requirements directly impacts development costs, she says. "If you didn't realize you were subject to these rules, you can lose money and go belly up."
Extra expenses come from building new stormwater infrastructure plus the loss of land -- as much as 25% of a site will need to be set aside for undisturbed woods. In some cases, developers may have to add plants or remove them. A project site that contains an invasive species, such Japanese honeysuckle or kudzu, in natural areas must be removed before the developer can get a certificate of occupation and be allowed to open.
And the new rules mean developers now have to worry about things such as goose poop. As silly as it sounds, animal waste running off into the area's water supply is a serious matter. Fecal matter from animals and sewer overflows havecontributed to the impairment of most of the county's 3,000 miles of waterways.
About 30% of
Sediment clogging the county's water, often caused by construction, only worsens the situation.
Then there are concerns over flooding, erosion of creeks and damage to habitats, says Hammock of the city's stormwater division. Plus, Mecklenburg has the responsibility of passing clean water back into the Catawba River, the water source for
Hammock says it's a tricky balancing act to accomplish the goals of the stormwater rules. Calling for undisturbed tree growth along streams conflicts with plans to build trails along greenways.
On the flipside, the post-construction controls ordinance helps developers meet state environmental requirements for projects that could impact the endangered Carolina Heelsplitter mussel, he says.
But that still doesn't mean developers have to like it.
"First and foremost, the ordinance is something we had to do," says Beacon Partners' Jon Morris. "There's nothing more important than the water we drink. What we were doing wasn't sustainable. In theory, it's a great idea."
But, Morris adds, "this will affect pro formas in a significant way."
The new requirements could add up to $15,000 an acre to the cost of a single-family subdivision, according to estimates from the development community. Using an industry standard multiplier, that extra development expense means home buyers could have to pay as much as $160,000 more per house.
City officials counter that development costs could be factored into the value of land, with the market adjusting to new costs.
Also at issue: conflicts between the post-construction controls ordinance and urban street design guidelines that require more sidewalks and pavement areas, exacerbating the amount of rainfall that runs off a property.
Nor do the stormwater rules do enough to address velocity, says Jim Medall, president and partner at the Charlotte-based Carolinas division of Rhein Medall Communities and developer of The Palisades, a master-planned golf community on 1,600 acres along
"This could be as simple as figuring out how to slow the water down," Medall says of the stormwater rules. "It's not going to apply to everything that's been built already. It's not going to fix the existing issues, and it may create new ones we don't know about."
Morris, Medall and others also find fault with some of the newly required infrastructure systems, arguing that they don't consider the nature of the
Hammock says many of the concerns broached by developers are often from a lack of understanding of how the ordinance and the new stormwater controls work: "The engineers don't ask these questions."
What doesn't work can always be revisited, he adds. And better ways of controlling and cleaning stormwater can be added. Currently under consideration: "green" roofs and porous pavement.
"We wouldn't propose these things if they were going to be a huge nuisance," Hammock says. "This technology has been used in other parts of the country for decades."
THE POST-CONSTRUCTION CONTROLS ORDINANCE
Federal law mandated city adoption of stricter stormwater rules by June 2009. After three years of negotiating with residential and commercial developers, City Council approved the new rules in November 2007.
The regulations generally require undisturbed natural land on every site and the engineering of infrastructure that captures and cleans rainfall.
Among their options, developers can install:
§ Rain gardens, which use plants and sandy soil to absorb and filter stormwater into an underground drainage system.
§ Wet ponds, or man-made wetlands, that detain stormwater and collect sediment.
§ Underground sand filters.
Other types of stormwater protections under consideration include:
§ "Green" rooftops that absorb and clean rainfall.
§ Porous pavement that aids in the absorption of stormwater.
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PS The 160K may be a an erro within the article. I'll check and report back.