stormwater utility

Stormwater Issues – No Easy Solutions

Last night marked the Township’s third public hearing for the Trout Creek Watershed Overlay District ordinance in as many months. The Trout Creek Watershed Overlay District ordinance would permit additional redevelopment usages on large properties in the Trout Creek Watershed in exchange for much-needed stormwater facilities help.  In addition to the public hearings on this topic, there have been multiple other meetings both public and in small groups with township staff, supervisors, planning commissioners, Richter property developer and residents.

Township manager Mimi Gleason gave an overview slide presentation detailing the proposed ordinance, its history and the process.  The idea for the Trout Creek Watershed Overlay District Ordinance originated with the 2010 ‘Trout Creek Watershed Study and Stormwater Best Management Practice Analysis’.  The Richter property was one of the 10 locations named in the study for stormwater best management practice in the township and suggested a 6-8 acre stormwater basin for that location.

Although the Trout Creek Watershed Overlay District Ordinance would apply to all applicable properties within the Trout Creek Watershed area, it is the 36 acre parcel located at Swedesford and Old Eagle School Roads – the Richter property – that is the focus and concern for the Glenhardie neighbors.  It should be noted that the Richter tract is the largest undeveloped property in the Trout Creek Watershed but as the economy improves, the proposed zoning ordinance amendment change could be used elsewhere in the district as an incentive for developers.

Prior to public comment, the supervisor chair Michelle Kichline made a motion to remove retail with accessory gas and multi-family/apartments from the proposed Trout Creek Watershed Overlay District Ordinance. Although the Planning Commissioners included these usages in the proposed ordinance, the motion passed unanimously. As explained by Kichline, there would be no vote on the ordinance at last night’s meeting.  Due to the level of prior public input on the subject, Kichline asked that all resident remarks focus specifically on the ordinance itself.

As we know, Joe Duckworth of Arcadia Land Company is the possible developer for the Richter tract. Duckworth continues to reach out to the neighbors and offered his email and cell phone number ‘on the record’ during the public hearing.  As part of his proposed carriage houses/townhouse development project for this site, would be the inclusion of a 6-8 acre stormwater basin.

Several residents asked about the possibility for the township to acquire property through eminent domain. As explained by township solicitor Vince Donohue, although legal this process would be long and expensive, both in acquisition and in legal fees. In other words, what I heard – not a very practical solution.

To further study the Trout Creek Watershed Overlay District situation, Kichline announced a ‘working group’ with supervisor Phil Donohue and resident Tom Coleman.  The group would include members of the planning commission and local Glenhardie residents.  Their mission would be to meet for 6-8 weeks and offer recommendations to the Board of Supervisors. Generally, I am a proponent of citizen task forces and hope that this working group will be inclusive and representative of the views of all residents affected; the mission and direction of this group should be defined clearly.

The stormwater challenges in Tredyffrin Township have been 300 years in the making and certainly are not going to be solved quickly.  Whether you live in the Glenhardie area or the Great Valley area of the township, stormwater issues exist. Historically, stormwater systems were designed to collect and quickly move runoff as a way to prevent localized flooding or erosion.  Over time, it has become evident that the traditional curb-and-gutter approach was not sufficient.

I am of the opinion that the stormwater challenge facing Tredyffrin is going to require a shift in the fundamental philosophy of our local government and its residents.  One of the hallmarks of recent township supervisor elections has been the promise of no tax increases or no new taxes.  But given the dramatic infrastructure problems facing this community, how much longer can that viewpoint work?  What we are now seeing is that the monetary cost of managing stormwater is high but the potential cost of inaction is even higher.

Beyond understanding that stormwater is a problem, needs to be the acceptance that the management of stormwater is a very costly responsibility.  Perhaps now is the time for our elected officials to seriously consider a stormwater utility.  This option could provide a vehicle for consolidating or coordinating responsibilities and provide an effective alternative to financing the cost of stormwater management.

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