Storm over storm-water rules
New regulations intended to reduce polluted storm-water runoff in Maryland have sparked a backlash among developers and local officials, who contend the rules undermine the state's Smart Growth policy by making it too expensive to redevelop urban and older suburban areas.
A forum at the Maryland Department of the Environment on Friday drew a standing-room crowd, mostly of developers and local officials who came to air their grievances over the rules. You can read a story I wrote about the forum in today's Baltimore Sun.
The new rules discourage the now-common practice of collecting storm runoff in ponds or underground tanks, in favor of letting the rain soak into soil, whether on open ground or green roofs, like the one shown above on a new elementary school in St. Mary's County. Drawn up in response to a 2007 law mandating tighter controls over storm runoff, the rules are scheduled to be enforced by local governments starting May 4. But developers contend they'll add hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars to the costs of large projects, and make some uneconomical by forcing them to leave more of their sites undeveloped.
Builders and local officials are pushing for the state to exempt or "grandfather" building projects already planned under the current rules. And they're demanding "flexibility" or relaxation of the rules for redevelopment projects, which are favored under the state's Smart Growth policy to encourage development in and around existing communities.
State officials say they're reviewing the complaints, but point out that projects already approved under the current storm runoff rules won't have to go back to the drawing board. They also contend there's plenty of flexibility already built into the new rules, though they require different techniques than developers are accustomed to using. Environmentalists even presented some examples of "low-impact development" that they contend actually cost less than the current methods, by using porous pavement, "rain gardens" and other techniques. More about those here and here.
Storm-water runoff is a major source of pollution degrading the Chesapeake Bay, and officials say it's a growing problem that needs to be curbed if the bay is to be restored. But critics contend that the rules on recycling developed sites are so strict they'll push builders out into the countryside, where they'll exacerbate the state's loss of farmland and forest. Even green-leaning lawmakers say they want to make sure the rules don't discourage redevelopment. Expect to hear more about this from Annapolis as the General Assembly cranks up.