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A new study finds that greenfield development and redevelopment projects can both be accomplished under stronger stormwater regulations, although the effort can be challenging and the outcome depends upon a range of factors.
Conducted by the consulting firm EcoNorthwest for Smart Growth America in collaboration with other organizations, the study set out to find if requirements to retain more stormwater onsite or for higher water quality treatment would undercut efforts to direct future development into already urbanized areas and encourage developers to focus on greenfield development.
“This shift could have unintended, adverse consequences for water quality in the long run by increasing the overall amount of impervious areas in a given watershed,” the study suggests.
This concern arises from a premise that stronger stormwater controls are more expensive to implement in redevelopment than greenfield development because of site constraints, land costs and other regulatory factors.
However, the study found that compliance with stormwater regulations is only one of many factors influencing a project’s costs, and it is rarely the driving factor, although it may change the types of projects that some developers pursue in the future.
“Our interviews revealed that developers’ decision-making process incorporates a wide range of economic factors — including various construction costs, current and future market conditions, regulatory incentives and disincentives, and uncertainty and risk,” the study says.
EcoNorthwest’s analysis was based on a review of current literature and interviews with regulators and the development community in three locations that had recently implemented stronger stormwater standards — Montgomery County, Md.; Philadelphia; and Olympia, Wash.
The study found that “some developers can and do meet stronger stormwater standards in both redevelopment and greenfield projects,” although doing so requires “creativity and willingness to experiment with new approaches to projects” and “pursuing these projects was not without challenge.”
Some of the developers who were interviewed, the study adds, “were skeptical, based on their own initial experiences or other developers they’d talked to, that they could make a project pencil out using low-impact development (LID) controls."
The study also notes that in all three jurisdictions “the market has yet to fully respond to the new regulatory environment” as the result of the weak economic conditions that have persisted since 2007.
“In many places, very little development activity has occurred at all since stronger stormwater regulations were implemented,” it says.
Among its finding, the study concludes that “consumer demand and market conditions matter to developers above all other factors.
“Developers emphasized that they build where the market demands development. If the market is strong for redevelopment projects in urban areas, interviewees said they would continue to meet that demand.
“Likewise, if people continue to demand the type of housing that new greenfield sites accommodate, developers maintained that they would continue to pursue these projects.”
Other factors of importance to developers:
- The costs of stormwater requirements are highly site-specific, “and one solution may be feasible and cost-effective at one site, but infeasible or cost-prohibitive at another site.”
- Integration of stormwater requirements at the earliest stage of development is important to the success of a project, along with a collaborative professional environment.
This is especially important for the success of redevelopment projects, which “tend to require more complex, site-specific and creative solutions to effectively manage stormwater.”
- Adjustments in the marketplace that are reducing costs of redevelopment include “more widespread availability of materials (such as porous pavers), better technologies that reduce the time and/or expense of installation (such as modular greenroof systems) and improved design and engineering expertise.”
- “Developers who were interviewed suggested that LID controls that helped them comply with stronger stormwater regulations at lower cost, increased the sale price or rent of a project, reduced the time to sale, or all three, would affect their decisions to use LID.”
Specific examples included “bioswales and other vegetative stormwater controls that improved the appearance and market appeal of a development while also reducing overall landscaping costs and long-term cost of roof maintenance for their customers.
“Developers noted, however, that market demand for projects that include LID stormwater controls have not yet expanded beyond niche markets.”
- Developers respond well to flexibility in meeting standards that improve their bottom line, such as incentives.
In cases where volume control is not achievable onsite, “off ramp” approaches to meeting standards such as payments in lieu and off-site mitigation are needed for developers to build cost-effective projects.
For the full report, click here.
For information on NAHB resources on stormwater, email Ty Asfaw, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8124.
“Storm Water Permitting: A Guide for Builders and Developers,” available through NAHB BuilderBooks, 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 a CD with stormwater permits, forms and guidance for 44 states and the District of Columbia.
To view or purchase this guide online, click here, or call 800-223-2665.