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Cost concerns plague new runoff rules

Sean Ryan
[email protected]

Regional flood-prevention rules designed to add only a little to development costs actually will add a lot, according to city planners who did the math.

A panel of municipal engineers from the 28 communities served by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District has proposed changing storm-water runoff regulations (PDF) for redevelopment projects. The original rules were created in 1997.

“They wanted to make sure that it wouldn’t be so stringent that it would prohibit redevelopment,” said Debra Jensen, MMSD planning services supervisor.

But not all municipalities in the region are sold on the idea.

“We are concerned with the rules,” said Michael Lewis, West Allis city engineer, “and we certainly think there are greater cost impacts than have maybe been found.”

The new storm-water runoff rules would apply to all redevelopment projects. Current rules apply only to those that would add a half-acre of new impervious surfaces, such as parking lots or rooftops, that won’t absorb rainwater.

To lessen the effect on development costs, the proposed rules do not require a certain square-footage of surface that can absorb rain, Jensen said. The proposed rules instead require redevelopments reduce by 10 to 20 percent, depending on the size of the project, the amount of storm water running off a property.

To test the effect of the rules, the district’s advisory team studied three redevelopment projects in Wauwatosa to see if they would satisfy the new criteria, Jensen said. One project would have met the new goals, while the other two needed minor modifications to comply, she said.

But the Wauwatosa projects were not good examples because the city has its own runoff regulations, Lewis said. He said West Allis determined it would cost $30,000 per acre on an average site to reduce runoff by 15 percent on a project.

West Allis regulates redevelopment projects by requiring an increase of at least 10 percent in the square-footage of such pervious surfaces as planters or green rooftops, Lewis said.

“That makes it easy,” he said. “Anybody can calculate square footage.”

Additional requirements for redevelopment projects that go beyond existing state and local rules could push projects into undeveloped land and encourage sprawl, said Dan Ertl, Brookfield’s director of community development.

“In these economic times, redevelopment sites are more challenging than ever in terms of the feasibility of recovering costs with regulations,” he said. “And if this adds another level of regulation, it will make the redevelopment of those sites more challenging and might promote development of new sites.”

J. Scott Mathie, government affairs director for the Metropolitan Builders Association in Waukesha, said he is unfamiliar with the details of the proposed runoff rules. But, he said, every rule that must be satisfied counts to developers as a mark against a project.

The proposed runoff rule changes are part of a broad package of revisions (PDF) the MMSD drafted with input from area communities. The district commission this month will consider scheduling for November public hearings for the runoff revisions, Jensen said.

Lewis said West Allis representatives will be at the hearings, and likely will have one message for the district: Don’t approve the rules.

“West Allis is already doing something toward this,” he said. “The days of coming into West Allis and paving over an acre of land for parking are long gone.”

One comment

  1. I think they need to use more pervious surfaces such as pervious concrete and the good old pervious pavers.I have used both processes in the Chicago market

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