May 25, 2013
Written by Peter Thalheim
Wednesday, 18 May 2011 12:34
The following is a letter addressed to the heads of the Greenwich Planning and Zoning Commission and the Department of Public Works on the proposed town drainage manual.
I attended the informational meeting this past Tuesday, April 19, on the proposed new Drainage Manual. I have also labored through this very lengthy document. I am writing you as a long time resident, local attorney, property developer and real estate salesperson. While I commend the authors and contributors for their tireless efforts to address our general water quality and stormwater in general, but I am dismayed by this document.This drainage manual appears to have been derived from planning documents from larger municipalities that face substantial subdivision proposals. While it might be fitting for large subdivisions of 10 acres or more, it is unduly burdensome when applied in its present form to one acre or less properties. It is not the objectives that are troubling, but rather the onerous and vague nature of its proposed regulations. You are all familiar with the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, “ nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” The Fifth Amendment that “private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation,” was also extended to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment. Section 11 of the Connecticut State Constitution states that “[t]he property of no person shall be taken for public use, without just compensation therefore.” And when government rules are vague or are devoid of objective standards they can be stricken for such vagueness as no man or woman should have to guess at what a statute means?
I bring this to your attention because there is such broad discretion given to the Town that there can be arbitrary enforcement of this drainage manual. While Katie and Scott are reasonable people, you cannot have rules that are subject to arbitrary interpretation. And while we propose to unduly constrain the ability of property owners to reasonably enjoy their properties, what are Stamford, Darien, New Canaan, Norwalk, Port Chester, Rye, Pound Ridge doing?
And let me not forget, to the extent this dampens the improvement of properties by Greenwich homeowners; it will also hurt the Town financially through lower permit fees and less valuable properties. It is the newly constructed properties that pay more taxes on their lot than that which existed before and take on a proportionately higher share of the tax burden. And I cannot even imagine the increased administrative personnel required to review, administer and police the plans submitted under this Manual.
A primary weakness of this Manual is that it is designed for large subdivisions. I well understand that with large subdivisions there is a fair amount of horse-trading that takes place in the negotiation of streets, utilities, open space, density, etc. The costs of environmental studies can be spread over many lots and in that fashion the costs are not as onerous per lot. But the approach of this manual is one size fits all. The eight pages of submittal requirements at pages 128-136 are prohibitively expensive and should not even apply to subdivisions of less than ten houses.
While these new Low Impact Development standards do not encourage the use of underground rechargers, I can say that they have helped reduce the water impact of new homes. At the presentation on Tuesday evening, I believe the Fuss & O’Neill consultant unfairly demonized some new homes as opposed to old homes. The Planning & Zoning rules with their grade planes measured ten feet from the house and the holy grail of having no more than a three-foot difference between your first floor elevation and the grade plane has unnecessarily contributed to the filling and terracing of land in this Town. But that is a subject for another day. The Tuesday evening slide presentation unfairly characterized some new homes as adversely affecting the water quality and stormwater flow in this Town. His examples were off the mark. In my experience, after I have built a home in Old Greenwich or Riverside with cultec rechargers to catch the first inch of rain, I have left the treatment of surface water and storm effect water better than when I got there. Generally speaking the old homes in these neighborhoods do nothing with the rain that hits their property and lets it go where it wants.
There was a brief discussion of nuisance actions between neighbors. As a result of my building a new home on Riverside Avenue, I was able to fix a recurring storm water problem that dated to the time of First Selectman Lowell Weicker. The neighbor had replaced a 12” pipe with a 4” pipe. A successor finished the job by crushing the entire pipe when they re-landscaped their back yard. On Sound Beach Avenue, an owner had disconnected an old tile drainpipe when they built their new home. After much cajoling and negotiating we got in there and fixed it. The supposition that new construction is ruinous is unfair. At least my houses hold the water and treat it. We have even used a storage tank to use ground water for irrigation and toilets, not to mention solar hot water panels, high efficiency gas furnaces, fluorescent lights and spray foam insulation so all systems are within the conditioned space. Some people call this LEED building, I just call it good building. I am not unmindful of the impact of new construction.
So I have some proposals for you. First I would like to point out some alarming concepts in this document. Then I would like to share excerpts of particularly offensive passages in the proposed Manual. Whereafter, I have some proposals to improve upon this Manual. And lastly I would like to ask for a computer copy of this manual so that I could redraft it in a more balanced manner.
As someone who builds primarily in the R-12 zone, the concept of rain gardens is disturbing as they make a level yard for playing hard to achieve. And kids and adults should play outside. There is the virtual prohibition of sump pumps, which moots a property right to use your basements for more living space. Your right to chose which trees to cut would be severely limited. Regardless of aesthetics, a basement that could be a walkout could be decreed to be a walkout. Cash or surety bonds could be required of landowners to complete the LID work. With stop work orders and liens threatened. There is even a mechanism to sue you if you don’t do as you are told. Does the Town really want to get into that kind of a relationship with its citizens when it is trying to use LID as a remedial measure for past communal “wrongs?” So why does the property owner who may be installing some LID concepts have to be threatened when their neighbors continue in the old school. No good deed goes unpunished.
There is another conceptual injustice that was touched upon on Tuesday evening. While the Town is under pressure to improve the quality of its stormwaters and the volume of the stormwaters, the financial responsibility will rest on most every person who desires to substantially improve their property. This is a shifting of costs to individuals for Town infrastructure. For this I have a proposal for the Town to partly make amends for its past “sins.” There is no way a 12,000 sq. ft. lot should have to go through the administrative nightmare that is eight pages of submittal requirements or try to fit all these LID remedies on their lot.
And oh, by the way, if it turns out that the soil underneath your proposed house location is more porous than the soil in what was going to be your back yard, you may be told to move the siting of your house. So you thought it might be nice to laze away a Saturday afternoon in your backyard reading, sleeping in a lounge chair or barbequing with family and friends, you may not have a back yard and instead will be relegated to the front yard because you had to site your new home in your back yard.
Who is voting to turn Greenwich into a Low Impact Development town? Who voted to turn potentially level playing yards into ankle breaking rain gardens? Who decided to vilify the homeowner who wants to substantially improve their 12,000 sq. ft. lot as was done in Tuesday evening’s presentation and in these proposed regulations and requires the homeowner to hire an army of “professionals?”
“This manual is applicable to new development and redevelopment activities on all properties within the Town of Greenwich . . .” Sec. 1.3, page 2. I submit that when you build on 12,000 sq. ft. it is very difficult to “maintain the integrity of the natural site features during the development process. Sec. 1.2, page 1. How do you excavate, store backfill materials, install utilities, store building materials and maintain the natural site features at the same time?
All future applications must take all steps “necessary to develop effective Low Impact Development site designs and stormwater management plans.” Sec. 1.4, page 3. “After making every effort to avoid and reduce potential development impacts the final step is to determine the basic approach for managing the remaining stormwater runoff . . .” Sec. 1.4, Step 4, page 4. (emphasis added). So the property owner must now make every effort. This is overbroad.
Using the aforementioned Step 4 “to develop a conceptual design plan at approximately the 25% design stage that utilizes LID site planning and design techniques to the maximum extent practicable. . . .” Sec. 1.4, Step 5, page 4. Again this is overbroad. Is the maximum extent pracrticable to the point right before the homeowner would have to file for bankruptcy? Is it to use the most cutting edge technology? This type of language should not be in government regulations. It does or does not meet a standard. Conceivably, leaving all existing trees up on a site, preventing any stockpiles of excavation material on the site, the prohibition of excavators versus backhoes, the planting of the majority of the property with certain plants would be “to the maximum extent practicable.” The Town cannot mean this, so they should not say it.
In the Site planning the following techniques are recommended:
• minimize grading and clearing
• preservation of natural topography
• reduced clearing and grading limits
• shorter and shared driveways
• shared parking
• reduced building footprints
• reduced parking lot footprints
• use of fewer cul de sacs
• use of open drainage systems
• disconnection of roof runoff
Sec. 2.2, page 8-9.
While some of these techniques are laudable for a major subdivision, it shows how this manual is not made for the Town of Greenwich. On new construction, our roof runoff in the R-12 zone goes primarily into underground storage facilities. We are not going to ask our citizens to share driveways with their neighbors. Preservation of the “natural topography” may limit an owner’s potential enjoyment of his or her own property. Is the “natural” topography that which our predecessors sculpted out of the land? Is it the unforested nature of Connecticut when it was primarily farmland? Then we would be returning to the “natural “ state of things?
As an aside, a Greenwich gentleman of considerable wealth decided he wanted to build a new golf course on Martha’s Vineyard some ten years ago. He gathered the land together and then proceeded to make his applications, which were mostly blocked. At one point he started clear-cutting some forestland. The editorials and letters to the editor vilified him and his development entity. There were calls for criminal charges. Ultimately, the developer buckled and threw his hands up. As part of the deal, he donated various lands to a nature conservancy. Once the nature conservancy had title to the land they pretty much lauded the beautiful historic vistas that had been opened up on these lands by the clear cutting. So it all depends who is doing the cutting. And yes it was nice to have these longer vistas over the topography of the land. So now the Town proposes to control which trees the homeowner may cut down and where the homeowner may plant trees.
The following guidelines sound reasonable when applied to a significant subdivision: “Low impact development practices, both non-structural and structural, are to be given preference over conventional structural stormwater controls.” They are, however, quite burdensome when applied to a 12,000 sq. ft. lot. Look out for your wallet and be wary of what you will be able to do with your property as low areas are not to be dewatered or filled. Sec. 3.2, page 11. The smallest (lightest) equipment possible is to be used. Sec. 3.2, para. B, page 11. “Development shall follow the natural contours of the landscape.” “Basements that reach grade should be constructed as walk-outs.” Sec. 3.2, para. D, Page 12. “All areas exposed to construction,... shall be decompacted (aerated) and covered with a minimum thickness of six inches of non-compacted topsoil....” Para. F, Page 12. So now you have to bring in six inches of aerated topsoil as opposed to 2 to 4 inches. And it can’t just be any topsoil, it must be aerated.
Although it sounds innocuous, the Third Standard on page 13, para. B, that “[p]roponents shall demonstrate how the proposed control(s) will comply with these standards, including runoff reduction, groundwater recharge, peak flow control and pollutant reduction. The proponent must provide design calculations and other back up materials necessary.” Yet keep in mind this is to be to “the maximum extent practicable.” How do you satisfy “to the maximum extent practicable?” Such language must be revised to an objective standard.
“Pumping of stormwater... or uncontaminated groundwater, including but not limited to, from yards, basements and foundations, is strongly discouraged and will be prohibited in most situations...” para, D, page 13, (emphasis added). “All other feasible approaches must be investigated to avoid the use of pumps in stormwater management system designs.” You may not have the ability on a 12,000 sq. ft. lot to pump your groundwater. The idea is to eliminate the ground water and not recycle it. In my experience, sump pumps cycle occasionally each day depending on the height of the groundwater. When it is not raining, there is no impact in Old Greenwich on the Town storm drain system as you can hear it run lazily to the Sound. During a 24-hour storm event, the ground water does not immediately rise. Instead it takes some time for the ground water level to rise, which is usually after the storm. At that point the storm drain system is not dealing with a storm. And even if the pumps cycle during the storm those points of cycling are random. It is reasonable for the homeowner to expect to improve their basement and for the Town to receive their discharge. One of the reasons that P&Z made rules to encourage basements is that the homeowner gets space but does not increase the bulk or coverage on their lot. Both of which are consistent with LID. This stated prohibition needs to be eliminated as finished basements are a reasonable use of one’s property rights and reduce the footprint of a house. Certainly, high water tables can make a finished basement a bad idea.
Now imagine that what was formerly a property right, to keep your basement dry, were actually granted by the Town. Then this Manual proposes punitive requirements for such lucky homeowner."If the use of a pump is approved by the approving authority, the proponent shall be required to provide the following at a minimum:”
• On site stormwater BMP’s that are designed to accommodate and manage the pumped stormwater. The Stormwater BMP shall include a system for reuse of the pumped water for lawn or landscape irrigation.
• maintain a backup generator associated with the pump
• design the system, at a minimum for the 25-year, 24-hour design storm.
• provide documentation that the pump and water re-use system was designed and inspected by a Professional Engineer licensed in the State of Connecticut., Page 13, (emphasis added).
An R-12 zone house may not have the capability to accommodate the water pumped out of the basement. It is bad design to keep that water on the site. I design and install pump systems with backups and I do not need it to be designed and inspected by a Professional Engineer. This is part of the full employment of professional engineers aspect of this manual. Tie the homeowner up in enough knots and deposit them in front of a professional’s office. This is not government for the people.
Standard 4 for Runoff Volume Reduction and Groundwater recharge, Page 14. At para. A: Control post-development runoff volumes to the corresponding pre-development runoff volumes for up to the 1 year, 24 hour storm to the maximum extent practicable.” (emphasis added). Footnote 4 defines “to the maximum extent practicable”
1. The project proponent has made all reasonable efforts to meet the standard,
2. The project proponent has made a complete evaluation of all possible management measures including LID...
3. If post-development runoff volumes and groundwater recharge do not at least approximate the predevelopment conditions, the project proponent has demonstrated that the highest practicable methods... have been implemented. page 14, (emphasis added).
So now you must make sure post development discharge equals pre-development to the maximum extent, using all reasonable efforts and all possible management measures and demonstrated that the highest practicable methods have been implemented. Short of bankruptcy, this is arbitrary. Does a property in a more expensive area get held to a higher standard than one that is not so well off? Does the person developing the $500,000 property have to pay the same amount to develop their property as the one who has a $1,500,000 property even though they are both the same size? This language is not an objective standard and should be eliminated.
At page 14, para. C. runoff must be retained on-site for new stormwater discharges located within 500 feet of tidal wetlands. Page 14. How do you retain that in an Old Greenwich flood zone if you can’t use rechargers. If Federal legislation does not mandate this why do we need to require it?
And as we have learned, infill, or taking down an old house and putting up a new house, falls under the same standards in the Manual. Under Standard 9, redevelopment is defined as “construction, alteration, or improvement that disturbs the ground surface or increases the impervious area on previously developed sites.” It includes teardowns. Para. A, page 16. This too “must meet the standards to the maximum extent practicable.” “Shall also improve existing conditions.” Para B, page 16. (emphasis added). Again a footnote “to the highest practicable level of stormwater management.” Footnote 7, page, 16., (emphasis added). This is punitive in its formulation.
When we get to standard 11 on construction inspections we learn of the financial guaranties that a homeowner may have to give to develop their own land. Para. A. post a bond, cash or other acceptable security. But not less than the total estimated construction cost of the stormwater management facilities. Shall not be fully released until approving authority has received and approved the final inspection report. page 17. While I am cognizant that the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency has been collecting and dispersing bonds for years, this is yet another financial layer for the homeowner and administrative layer for the Town. So if the creation of rain gardens, tree planting, landscaping, aerated topsoil, seeding, drywells, generators, operation and maintenance contract totals over $40,000.00, the homeowner has to get that money together on top of the extra engineering costs, inspection costs and the actual cost of construction. And the homeowner has to wait for that money to be slowly refunded. So how many more personnel need to be hired to administer and monitor such a program? How many sign-offs? “You released what to whom?”
And even if you have done what you promised to do, you get to spend more money on a test to show that you did what you promised to do. At page 20: Redevelopment projects shall demonstrate that no illicit discharges exist on the redevelopment site by use a dry-weather illicit discharge survey.
Then we get further into the one-size fits all aspect, when the operation and maintenance of these LID technologies are addressed.
Standard 12, Operation and Maintenance: “Approving authority shall require a project proponent to establish a homeowners association or similar entity to maintain the stormwater management system. Para. A, page 18. Para. E provides that parties responsible for operation and maintenance shall keep and retain records for five years, Page 19. Para G. When responsible party fails to implement operation and maintenance plan, Greenwich can assume responsibility and sue and place a lien on the subject property. Page 19. Again, who has the resources to sue and lien a Greenwich citizen?
And how does Low Impact Development feel about lawns and recreational areas on our 12,000 sq. ft. lots? It doesn’t look good. Techniques are used to minimize site disturbance, preserving important site features, reduce and disconnect impervious cover, flatten slopes, minimizing turf grass lawns. page 23. Although you might be able to use conventional techniques to treat surface water that is on your property and to reduce the stormwater volume from your property, this Manual mandates that you use LID
to maximum extent practicable. Page 24, “Project proponents shall demonstrate why the use of LID site planning and design techniques is not possible before proposing to use traditional, structural stormwater management measures alone.” Page 24. I fear that the preference of LID to the maximum extent practicable effectively forecloses traditional methods and situations that the traditional methods are more cost effective. When drafting rules, we cannot look to the reasonableness of Katie or Scott in their implementation, but rather to how they could be applied objectively.
The following standard is an unreasonable expense on a 12,000 sq. ft. lot: to provide a topographic map at a minimum 100 feet beyond the limits of the subject property. Step 2, page 27. Could one provide a GIS map? Yes. But a lot that is 80 feet by 150 feet should not be required to pay a surveyor to measure to topography 100 feet in each direction from a 12,000 sq. ft. lot. And how much does it cost to classify the Hydrologic Soil Groups on site? Page 27. Then a qualified professional has to be brought in to determine the generalized forest types. Page 28.
The Manual then takes us to a concept that may make sense for a large subdivision but which could be prohibitively expensive for a small lot.
Step 3, Development envelope may be sited with minimal effect to site hydrology and other ecological, scenic, or historic features. page 29. This means that if there are more porous soils where you want to site your house, you could be told to move your house in total disregard to a view, privacy, the path of the sun, etc. This goes too far. But there is more. LID commands that ground disturbances should be held to the smallest possible area. That certainly makes sense for large lots but it is too restrictive for small lots. I know from experience, that you can set up fencing to restrict how far contractors can go with machinery or storage of supplies, and when you are not there they will just drive right over it because it impedes the efficient construction of the home. And efficiency is an environmental concern. At page 31, one is advised to reduce paving, avoid the removal of existing trees, maintain existing topography and to relocate house to areas that have lower hydrologic function, such as barren clay soils. Page 31. While I can appreciate that the reduction of asphalt can help percolation and lower cost, the location of trees, topography and house are quite personal on a small lot. The Town should not be involved in such decisions “to the maximum extent practicable.”
Further directives are that:
• "In no case shall excavation equipment be placed in the bottom of an infiltration area during construction.” Page 32.
• Site disturbance including earthwork and clearing of vegetation should be limited to 40 feet beyond the building perimeter. This guidance is not intended to limit lawn areas.” Page 34.
“Minimum stream buffer width shall be 50 feet from its top bank.” Page 39
Can you imagine that you have a stream near your property and the minimum buffer is now 50 feet versus 35 feet? This is too rash.
Your drainage facilities shall be placed a minimum of 10 feet from neighboring property and from any retaining wall. Section 6.1, page 95.
And here again I return to sump pumps and basements. “Pumping of stormwater or uncontaminated groundwater... is strongly discouraged and will be prohibited in most situations as part of stormwater management system... sec.6.1, page 96. And connections to the town drainage system will only be allowed if the design engineer demonstrates the Town drainage system to be adequate to accept the proposed discharge or that the peak flow into the system is not increasing. Page 96. Now is this really a relief valve? How could peak flow during a storm not theoretically be increased if the sump pump engages intermittently? At some point it would be on when a storm is happening?
Now we turn to the burdensome submittal requirements at pages 128-136. I reiterate that these submittal requirements are only applicable for a large subdivision. They do not work for smaller lots. So it starts out with two rounds of preliminary reports. Only after you have labored through the first report and received an okay for the Town can you move to part two. The first thing you do is submit the “approved stormwater management report part one.” Page 130. To this approved report you get to add more BMPs on water quality volume, flow and total suspended solids removal data. Runoff reduction volume, groundwater recharge volume, stream channel protection, peak runoff attenuation for 2, 5, 10, 25, 50 and 100 year storms, culvert capacity calculations, outlet protection calculations are also required. Then on a case by case basis the landowner shall provide downstream analysis, Town storm drain analysis, gutter flow calculations, which of course is all sealed and signed by a professional engineer. Page 130.
The construction plans will of course be certified by a licensed land surveyor, professional engineer and certified soil scientist. The survey will have spot elevations if the topography is less than 2% and two benchmarks as opposed to one. And because there are so many new requirements you are directed to “use multiple plan sheets to keep legible.” Page 131. Really. So to develop this 12,000 sq. ft. lot we have to have even more complicated plans, which would include, amongst other items, 100-year flood boundaries verified in the field by a licensed land surveyor. Page 132. And this is not even the site plan, which your are also directed to have “multiple plan sheets to keep legible.” Page 132. Here the contour levels are to be at 2-foot intervals and at a minimum 100 feet beyond the limits of the subject property. Page 132. This is ludicrous. So a 12,000 sq. ft. parcel is to pay to have a site plan include and show the elevations on another eight properties? And how exactly does the surveyor get on these eight properties for the purpose of preparing the site plan for one property? This requirement should not be here and is unduly burdensome. This is also supposed to show at the landowner’s expense the “floodplain and floodway limits and relationship of site to upstream and downstream properties and drainage systems.” page 132. “Location, size, maintenance access, and limits of disturbance of proposed structural stormwater management practices.” page 132, (emphasis added).
What’s more there will be a “[f]inal landscaping plans for structural stormwater management practices and site revegetation.” page 132. In addition, there are to be “[e]xcavation and filling calculations and details” page 133. Driveway profiles and sight distance will be signed by a professional engineer. Turning movement plan, whatever that is, will be sealed and signed by a professional engineer. Erosion and sediment controls require “[o]perations and maintenance of erosion & sediment controls.” All of which will be signed by a professional engineer. page 134. And another layer with roof drainage layout plan signed and sealed by a professional engineer. page 134. As though an architect could not do the latter.
Further supporting documents would be soil texture analysis, soil boring and test pit results, saturated hydraulic conductivity test results, groundwater mounding analysis, information on wetlands and surface waters plus flood studies. Page 134. Yes this is all for one 12,000 sq. ft. lot. But we are not finished as there is a mandated “long term Operation and Maintenance Plan . . . to ensure that stormwater management systems function as designed.” page 134. So you will identify the stormwater management system owners, which is customarily the landowner, the parties responsible for operation and maintenance and how future owners will be notified of their responsibility for proper operation and maintenance. The routine and non-routine maintenance schedule, a log form and estimated operations and maintenance budget, maintenance agreements in place. page 134. The latter might be a contract with a third party. There is also to be a plan drawn to scale that shows the location of all stormwater features in the chain of treatment and their discharge points. This of course is to be signed and sealed by a professional engineer. Page 134. I doubt this will reflect positively on the future resale of the homeowner’s property. But it gets better. At the top of page 135 it clarifies that the homeowner “shall also provide a legal mechanism for implementing and enforcing the operation and maintenance plan . . . which shall be filed on the Town of Greenwich Land Records. The filing on the Land Records would set forth “those activities that must be carried out to maintain compliance with the declaration.” So you thought you were done when you submitted all of your as-built certifications and received a certificate of occupancy? Well the Town will only be too happy to sue you long after you have your certificate of occupancy. This is not the relationship that the Town should have with its citizens.
Oh and by the way, as you go through the many revisions and reviews promised by this drainage manual make sure that “[a]ll plans must include the revision date and a CAD revision symbol on all changes. Page 135. “Each review period shall start with a clean slate and no revisions.” Page 135, (emphasis added). “A letter shall be submitted with each revised set of plans and shall discuss all revisions.” Page 135, (emphasis added). I cannot even imagine how many revisions and paper has to be consumed to get to the end of the process, and how long will that take? And lastly, prior to the issuance of a certificate of occupancy, the landowner of a 12,000 sq. ft. lot must have submitted:
a. Engineer and developer of record certification
b. Drainage certification
c. Site inspection certification
d. Soil evaluation test results and certification
e. Bioretention soil testing certification
f. Bioretention post-construction flow rate testing certification
g. Retaining wall certification
h. Field inspection record
i. Retaining wall field inspection record.
Page 136. These requirements are unduly burdensome and expensive.
Before I forget, I would like to make a reference to a diagram that is contained in the manual that is wholly inaccurate. You may recall at the Tuesday evening presentation when the Fuss & O’Neill representative was pushed on the accuracy of his examples from which he backed off as not the best examples. At page 40 there is a diagram borrowed from the Atlanta Regional Commission. Yet another indicator that this Manual is better suited for large municipalities. It shows a “large impact area” development of a single family home and a “small impact area.” The comparative drawings are so inaccurate as to be comical. And how is that? Well if you hold a ruler to the original slope in both diagrams the slope of the “high impact” picture is almost twice that of the “low impact” picture. It is alarmist. When Mr. Kaufman spoke before the audience, he gave conclusory answers without any detail. His statement that LID can actually increase the value of sub-divisions is inapplicable to in-fill lots, which are the majority of Greenwich lots.
I would see large subdivision proposals in a municipality as a form of horse-trading. The developer wants x number of lots and roads. The town only wants so many houses. I can certainly see there being value in the two discussing clustering of the houses and streets to increase the amount of open space. Under such a scenario, you may end up with a more humane development with clustered homes, fewer streets and more open space. The developer still has as many houses to sell, but has less asphalt to lay down, less land to clear and fewer utilities to install. But that is not Greenwich. In the southern part of Town we are dealing primarily with teardowns and additions. Landowners have a right to develop their 12,000 sq. ft. lots and should not be held to a different standard than their neighbors. A 25% coverage target for 12,000 sq. ft. lots is patently unreasonable. To apply this entire 140 page Manual plus appendixes to small lots is discriminatory and unjust. It puts the relationship between the Town and its citizens on an adversarial basis. This one-size fits all approach is flawed. I would like to make some proposals, so that we may be able to have our cake and eat it too.
Foremost, I don’t think the Town of Greenwich has enough of its skin in this game. There are reasonable exemptions for the Town of Greenwich to maintain its road, parks, schools and the like in this Manual. But part of the impetus of this Manual is pressure to improve the quality of water that enters Long Island Sound and part of the pressure is the periodic flooding in parts of the Town. I believe any LID approach for a property should look first to the Town land between the edge of the street and the landowners parcel. Sometimes these strips are five to ten feet wide. Figures 4-15 through 4-20 on pages 58-61 show shallow swales, porous pavement shoulders and urban roadway bioretention designs. The Town should offer these up reflexively. Whether the Town pays to install these in front of a newly constructed home or the homeowner as part of their new construction can be negotiated. The benefit can also be that since they are in the Town right-of-way, the Town has access to them to maintain them.
I would also like to make an effort to redraft the Drainage Manual so that LID could be fairly applied to smaller lots. While this Manual could reasonably be applied to a large subdivision, it is a radical departure from present practices for the individual homeowner. I believe where the Town tried to make provision for 500 sq. ft. and 1,000 sq. ft. additions to a home was movement in the right direction. In order to prepare a redraft I would need an e-mailed copy of the Drainage Manual that I could alter it in the Word program.
This Manual needs to be critically looked at by the homeowner, developer and attorney. With all due respect to the professional engineers and professional landscapers that may have commented on this document, the passage of this Manual could be a “Full Employment Act for Engineers and Landscapers.” There is a natural conflict of interest for review by these professionals, as this document requires the landowner to buy so many more services from these invaluable professionals. Thank you for your patience in reading this letter. I hope to hear from you soon.
Very truly yours:
Peter A. Thalheim
Attorney at Law
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