Public Comment on Proposed DCR Storm Water Regulations.
By. Neil Williamson, President
The Free Enterprise Forum, a public policy group based in Charlottesville, is committed to environmentally and economically sustainable measures to improve the quality of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. The value of the Bay as an ecological resource can not be overstated. Since our founding in 2002, we have often worked collaboratively with other advocacy organizations to develop reasonable and rational solutions to our community needs.
Around the world, Virginia is blessed to have an excellent, business friendly reputation. This reputation is based on our excellent schools (and the resulting workforce), desirable location, small government, well integrated transportation network and relatively favorable regulatory environment.
To remain globally competitive, Virginia business must have the ability to develop industrial and commercial sites as well as nearby affordable housing without unnecessary, burdensome regulation. This is the best prescription for the creation of high paying jobs and healthy homes for those workers to return each evening. Further, these jobs, homes and the commerce they produce together help grow the Commonwealth’s tax base.
The Free Enterprise Forum is very concerned that the proposed stormwater regulations will have severe unintended economic and environmental consequences. Further, these regulations will drastically hinder, through dramatic cost increases, the ability of localities to deliver core governmental services. The regulations’ new technical quality and quantity standards create an undue burden on new development and redevelopment with only minimal benefits provided to the overall environment.
The water quality standard targets a small amount of phosphorous in urban development, which itself accounts for less than one percent of the acreage in the watershed annually. The .28 lbs of phosphorous per acre per year standard in the regulation over the next twenty-five years, based on historic development patterns, only reduces the projected urban and suburban phosphorous loads by just under 124,000 pounds in the 25th year of the plan, at the extraordinarily high cost of $2.1 Billion.
With the increased restrictions on impervious surface created by this regulation, and the requirement to mitigate runoff from pervious surfaces as well, compliance requires additional acres in residential developments. In urban core areas, that land comes with a premium price attached to it and reduces available densities as more land will be required for stormwater management facilities. This will drive the cost of housing in high density urban areas to unaffordable levels and also make much job producing commercial and industrial development activities problematic. If enacted, these regulations will eliminate much of the development currently on the drawing boards.
One unintended effect of these regulations will be to push development out to where land is less expensive and offers opportunities for large lot developments. Such large lot developments result in expansive, highly fertilized lawns and gardens and community open space fertilized by homeowners associations all generating significant nutrient load.
Further, the movement away from urban cores is in direct contradiction to the stated policies of the Virginia General Assembly and the Governor evidenced by House Bill 3202 passed during the 2008 Special Session. House Bill 3202 creates a requirement for Urban Development Areas (UDA) in localities with high growth rates. The goal of the legislation is to compact future development into densely populated communities where home, work, and recreational opportunities are all within walking distance of each other. Development within a UDA under this regulation would be extremely expensive, and would likely eliminate the option for affordable housing. In some cases, it will preclude development all together.
Another unintended effect of the regulations will be a dramatic disincentive for infill, redevelopment projects. The Governor’s vision for urbanized core is dependent on utilizing the land within the UDA to redevelop as higher density housing and commercial projects. The proposed regulations place an unreasonable burden on redevelopment projects that will likely make many such projects financially unsustainable.
In addition, the increased restrictions on impervious surfaces will dramatically impact the development of new schools, libraries and fire stations. While the Free Enterprise Forum does not usually comment on schools, we do believe public education is a core governmental function. The proposed regulations would likely double the amount of land required for any school project and would more than double the land requirements for a high school project. The localities will be directed by state code to position their schools within the UDA, where land costs are higher than comparable land outside the UDA. This creates the proverbial perfect storm where despite the relatively small environmental benefit, taxpayers will pay exponentially higher taxes to fund the land acquisition and the land acquired will then be unavailable for potential residential or commercial development.
The Free Enterprise Forum is not opposed to reasonable, rational standards that will have the intended impact of improving the Chesapeake Bay. We are opposed to the current regulations that force unfair, unreasonable requirements on localities and the development community.
We understand the Homebuilders Association of Virginia (HBAV), The Virginia Association of Counties (VaCo), Virginia Municipal League (VML), The Farm Bureau and other interested groups have proposed several alternative plans. In addition, we are also aware of a most interesting five point proposal by Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Chairman (and a former Clinton White House Senior Advisor on Environmental Issues) David Slutzky. We strongly encourage DCR to consider these suggested alternatives in place of the current proposal. While we fully support a science-based alternative proposal. We believe both the HBAV and the Slutzky plan offer workable solutions worthy of serious consideration.
Recently, a veteran businessman said the DCR proposal under consideration is the most detrimental government action he has ever seen in his forty-year career.
The stakes are high. Without being overly dramatic, the economic vitality of the Commonwealth, in many ways hangs in the balance. The Free Enterprise Forum calls for coordination between DCR, HBAV nd others to develop a plan that “saves” the bay without destroying our economic vitality.