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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Fairfax County seeks input on new stormwater ordinance

This stormwater management facility, on Degroff Court, is considered inadequate to prevent flooding in the Annandale Acres neighborhood.

The Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES)  is seeking community input in the development of a new stormwater management ordinance. The new ordinance, required to comply with new state regulations, could have a major impact on stormwater mitigation requirements for infill developments, a major concern in the Annandale/Mason area.

DPWES held an introductory meeting July 24 on the state regulatory changes and has scheduled two meetings, Sept. 24 and Oct. 17, to solicit input from stakeholders. Both meetings are 1-5 p.m. in room 106/107 of the Herrity Building, 12055 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax.

An email to the community says DPWES wants to identify approximately 60 stakeholders to participate in those sessions to help county staff “think through several issues where the county has flexibility or the ability to adopt more stringent requirements than the state standards.”

DPWES has asked organizations interested in participating in the upcoming meetings to fill out an online form indicating dates available and topics of interest.

The deadline was Aug. 30, but there are still about 10 to 12 spots open, says Bruce McGranahan of the stormwater division in DPWES. He urges people interested in being part of the stakeholder group to fill out the form as soon as possible.

So far, he says, the group includes developers, consulting engineers, and representatives of environmental organizations, neighborhood groups, homebuilder associations, and the Fairfax Federation of Citizens Associations. The Mason District Council of Community Associations is represented by land use attorney Kathleen McDermott, who has worked with several neighborhoods battling infill development.

According to McGranahan, the new state regulations “are really not good for developers,” because they would impose more stringent requirements. In cases where Fairfax County ordinances are stricter than the state standards, such as protecting streams from erosion, “we’ll keep the more stringent county standards,” he said.

Regarding the development of small, infill lots, “it probably isn’t going to make a lot of difference,” McGranahan says, because “the new rules won’t kick in until you get an acre of disturbance. A larger lot would have more stringent standards.” He says the new rules “won’t solve existing flooding problems” because they will only affect projects built after the rules  take effect on July l, 2014.

During the July 24 meeting, McGranahan presented an overview of the state’s new stormwater management regulations. To determine water quality, a new “runoff reduction method”—which will consider runoff from impervious, grassed, and forested areas—will replace the “simple method,” which only addresses the impervious area of a site controlled by a structural stormwater facility. Developers are allowed to use offsets to achieve water quality requirements, but not for water quantity.

“These changes will generally result in more stringent requirements and will favor an increase in smaller stormwater control facilities that promote infiltration into the soil,” states a summary of the meeting.

Regarding water quality, the state water regulations are “situational, based on whether there is existing localized flooding,” McGranahan says. “This is less stringent than current county requirements.” Fairfax County will have to revise stormwater provisions in the county code, Public Facilities Manual(PFM), and other policies and procedures.

Each of the upcoming meetings will address approximately four issue areas, with participants assigned to a team to address a specific issue. These issues, identified during the July meeting, include the following:

Single-family home exemptions—The Virginia Code allows an exemption for single-family dwellings between 2,500 square feet and one acre.  Should the county provide an exemption?  If so, what should be the cut off? For instance should it be 5,000 square feet or more? Are there options other than providing a blanket exemption?

Impacts of infill development—Concerns were expressed that infill development can have cumulative impacts on a watershed or localized impacts on surrounding properties. What options are available for addressing issues with infill development while recognizing the potential difficulty of implementing controls on these properties? 

Adequate outfall requirementsNew detention provisions in the state regulations eliminate the need for a downstream adequacy review and are less stringent than requirements in the current PFM.  The Virginia Code allows Fairfax County to establish a more stringent standard. Should the county retain the more stringent requirements in the current PFM?  Is there another way of addressing this issue that is different from the state standard or the PFM?

Impacts on pro-rata share program—Participants at the July 24 meeting asked how the use of the new runoff reduction method would affect pro-rata share calculations since the methodology addresses water quantity through infiltrating runoff into the soil. Should the pro rata share program be changed as a result of the new regulations? And if so, how?

Stormwater facilities in residential areas—The new state regulations favor implementation of smaller facilities on individual lots. In general, current county practice is to require facilities to be placed on out-lots. However, the new requirements will create a greater number of smaller, distributed facilities, which might create issues and affect lot yield. Should certain facilities be allowed on individual lots?  Who would perform maintenance (the county, homeowner association, or property owner)?  How would enforcement be handled (maintenance agreement versus other restriction)?

Restrictions on the use of certain stormwater facilities—The Virginia Code and BMP Clearinghouse list the types of stormwater facilities that can be used to meet requirements. Several state-approved facilities are different from what is in the current PFM or there is no equivalent. The county may restrict the use of certain facilities with written justification. Should the use of certain facilities be restricted?  What criteria should the county use to determine which facilities to allow or provisionally allow?

Stormwater facility inspections by owners—The Virginia Code requires “submission of inspection and maintenance reports” to the county by private stormwater facility operators.  Current practice is for the county to perform a compliance inspection every five years. What is a reasonable inspection and maintenance report frequency? Should it be different for different stormwater facility classifications? What should be the enforcement requirements? Should this requirement only apply to new facilities, or be retroactive to existing facilities?

Nutrient credit offset provisions—The Virginia Code requires the county to allow nutrient offset credits under certain circumstances. The county has the discretion to allow offsets under other circumstances. What criteria should the county use for allowing offsets?  How much does the county want to encourage nutrient offsets versus on-site stormwater facilities?

During the question-and-answer period at the July meeting, the summary states, someone noted that by-right infill development often results in flooding of neighboring properties and asked whether the new ordinance will address this issue. DWPES staff responded that this issue can be addressed during discussions of single-lot exemptions and adequate outfall requirements. Another participant said developers are not looking at impacts far enough downstream and there should be focus on downstream problems and the cumulative impact of single-lot development in the new ordinance. [This is the type of situation affecting the Annandale Acres and Wilburdale neighborhoods in Annandale.]

Someone else offered several examples of infill development where large homes have caused flooding issues for adjacent homes and recommended that the county look at the cumulative impact of infill development instead of on a lot-by-lot basis.

County staff agreed this is an important issue, noting that they try to “balance cost/impacts with property rights.” If the county isn’t able to address this during the initial stakeholder process, “it may be deferred to an anticipated Phase II of the process.”

Another participant recommended that the ordinance include a requirement for infill development to notify adjacent property owners about their plans. County staff responded that the “there is no state enabling authority that would allow this.”

Someone else asked who is responsible for drainage issues caused by road structures, noting that road construction at the intersection of Hummer Road and Annandale Road caused drainage issues in nearby neighborhoods. The county noted that VDOT, and not the county, is responsible for culverts under state-maintained roads.

1 comment:

  1. Great article. You took a complicated issue and made it more understandable. Thank you.

    I have no trust in what our state and especially Fairfax County government officials will institute for stormwater runoff regulations for 2014. I'm pretty sure Fairfax will allow developers to defer stormwater mitigation until Phase II or basically after the project is built and then it's too late. Developers will never go along with having to use their own land to install stormwater drainage systems and will find away around it with in kind payments to the parks, schools, etc.