Developers and environmentalists battle over new stormwater rules

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By Julie Turkewitz

Members of Maryland’s environmental and development communities met Friday to continue an impassioned discussion about the impact of stormwater management regulations that will go into effect in May.

At least 200 people packed a conference room in Baltimore, filling long cafeteria-like tables and lining the back and side walls to hear a panel of individuals – including developers and representatives from the Department of the Environment– defend and critique the new regulations.

The forum, sponsored by the Task Force on the Future for Growth and Development in Maryland, allowed developers to present fears about the way the new requirements will affect their projects and the state. The task force asked that they make specific suggestions as to how to monitor the after-effects of the new provisions, assuming they are permitted to go forward.

The turnout reflected the importance of a seemingly technical issue and demonstrated that many believe the new provisions could have far reaching impact in the region. Developers and some county officials argue the rules will affect growth in urban zones and rural towns, possibly curbing job expansion and shaping Maryland’s growth pattern. The stormwater rules are seen as part of a larger statewide battle to create policies that both protect economic growth and curb pollution into the Chesapeake Bay.

What is not clear is if the meeting – which lasted more than three hours and included more than 30 speakers – will influence how the Department of the Environment and local governments interpret and implement the regulations, which go into effect May 4. Jay Sakai, Water Management Administration Director at the Maryland Department of the Environment, was adamant that the department “has no plans to change the date” when developers will have to comply with the new regulations.

Much of Friday’s meeting centered around questions of how local governments will allow for flexibility when evaluating how projects satisify the new provisions. While the new regulations call for drastic changes in the way a site manages its stormwater, they also include several clauses that allow for a developer to explore “alternative stormwater management measures” if the planner can demonstrate to the local government that meeting the new requirements is not possible.

“The whole point is: There is flexibility,” said Ken Pensyl of the Department of the Environment, which released the regulations in May 2009, allowing developers a year to plan how they would comply. He defended the regulations, and Sakai hinted that in the coming weeks the department would more clearly define the flexible stormwater management options for developers.

The regulations represent a major shift in Maryland’s stormwater management system, calling on developers to protect the bay by constructing buildings according to Environmental Site Design. This new system mandates that lots maintain pre-development runoff characteristics even after structures are erected, and suggests the use of a host of devices, including green roofs, rain barrels, rain gardens and permeable parking pavements.

Developers presented examples of sites that will be significantly impacted by the new regulations, sharing cost analyses of endeavors in areas across the state that would lose thousands or even millions of dollars in attempts to meet Environmental Site Design.

The new regulations will “wreak havoc” on Smart Growth, said Michael Greenebaum, a partner at Greenebaum & Rose Associates, a real estate firm that specializes in the development of large scale mixed-use areas. Along with others, he argued that the regulations will contour Maryland’s growth pattern, making redevelopment costly, encouraging growth in far-our areas, and therefore reversing Maryland’s fight to curb sprawl and protect the Chesapeake Bay.

“We are not crybabies, nor do we fear or fight change,” said Greenebaum, who presented a 600-acre mixed-use area in Howard County, Maple Lawn, that will lose millions of dollars when new regulations force developers to revamp its stormwater management system.

Like many developers, he pleaded for a grandfather system that would allow some in-process projects to comply with old regulations.

Members of the Maryland Municipal League sought to present a middle ground, supporting the new provisions, but urging policymakers to examine their effects on the state.

“The devils is in the details,” said Candace Donoho, director of governmental relations at the Maryland Municipal Leage, who expressed concern about the regulations’ impact on downtown areas. By discouraging redevelopment, the provisions, she said, could channel a rise in strip malls on the outskirts of cities, breaking up the “fabric” of the state’s urban centers and towns.

“We don’t want to turn this thing upside down,” she said. “We just want to make it work”

Local governments – charged with implementing the regulations and funding their enforcement – expressed fear about enforcement nightmares. Henry Burden, town planner for Port Deposit, a town of fewer than 700 in Cecil County, noted that the regulations will not just discourage redevelopment in big cities like Baltimore. He said the new stormwater regulations could “paralyze” small towns that lack the funding to hire the talent to implement them.

Members of the environmental community recognized that developers fear the uncertainty that accompanies change. Speaking after the meeting, Jenn Aiosa, Maryland Senior Scientist at the Cheapeake Bay Foundation, urged builders to be focus on the flexibility provided in the new mandates, and asked them to recognize that the bay is in “dire straits.”

She also asked the Department of the Environment to “better articulate with each of the local governments about how they define flexibility” so that developers better understand the new provisions.

“We need a dramatically changed bay,” she said. “And we’re asking all stakeholders to step up and take responsibility.”

What’s next:
The House Environmental Matters Comnmittee will hold a hearing on the new stormwater management regulations on Jan. 26, 2010, at 10:30 a.m. in Annapolis.

The Task Force on the Future for Growth and Development in Maryland will meet again on February 1, 2010. This issue will be on the agenda.

Julie Turkwitz can be reached at .

Watch for continued coverage of the stormwater management issues at Center Maryland.

Previous stormwater coverage from Center Maryland

Developers fear new stormwater regulations will undermine Smart Growth

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