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New environmental requirements for some builders and developers in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. are posing a threat to planned redevelopment projects designed to encourage “smart growth” in the region.
Under Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) allocations proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, builders seeking construction permits in the Accotink Creek watershed in Fairfax County will be required to show that they will be able to reduce storm water runoff from their site by 55.4%.
A permit that regulates the maximum flow of storm water allowed to leave the site — as opposed to setting limits on pollutants in any storm water from the site — is not unheard of, but exceedingly difficult to meet in already developed urban areas, noted Glynn Rountree, an environmental policy analyst at NAHB.
Fairfax County is concerned about the regulation as well, he said. With the watershed almost completely built out, there are minimal opportunities to address the water-flow issue by retrofitting impervious pavement during new development activities.
Because most of the watershed is residential or open space, the new requirement would predominately affect existing home owners attempting to make changes to their property.
The Accotink Creek watershed covers Fairfax County and portions of the cities of Fairfax and Vienna, and 25% of it is comprised of impervious surfaces on rooftops, streets, driveways, parking lots and sidewalks.
“The expense of meeting these requirements — falling on the county at the same time as the Chesapeake Bay TMDL requirements due this September — may be the death knell for planned redevelopment activities in Fairfax County,” Rountree said.
Ironically, many of the redevelopment projects are designed to protect the region’s water quality by reducing vehicular traffic and encouraging more mass transit, including a plan to make Tyson’s Corner — one of the nation’s largest retail and commercial centers — more pedestrian-friendly.
In a July 26 public meeting on the new requirements, EPA representatives acknowledged that coming into compliance with the TMDL will probably take decades and be costly and controversial, Rountree said.
The EPA spokespersons provided assurances that they would go lightly on enforcement during this lengthy transitional period, he said, but “agency staff come and go and promises regarding enforcement that are not written down have often been shown to have little value.”
The EPA also indicated at the meeting that it is planning to use flow reduction mandates in other new TMDLs as the opportunity arises.
“For home builders associations, the lesson to be learned here is that staff and environmental committee leaders should be encouraged to keep up with the TMDLs that have to be completed in the state. Otherwise, the EPA will step in and write a TMDL requiring flow reductions, thereby making life still harder for home builders,” Rountree said.
For more information, e-mail Glynn Rountree, or call him at 800-368-5242 x8662.
“Storm Water Permitting: A Guide for Builders and Developers,” available through BuilderBooks.com, provides a starting point for builders and developers to use in locating and understanding storm water permitting requirements.
The publication has been prepared to help builders comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's stormwater requirements, and includes information on state permitting programs and more than 50 of the most commonly used Best Management Practices.
Also included are tips on compliance, including how to handle visits from inspectors.
To view or purchase this guide online, click here, or call 800-223-2665.