Taking Action: Vernon Hills’ underground stormwater solution - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Taking Action: Vernon Hills’ underground stormwater solution

When not managed properly, stormwater can be a costly nuisance.

Across the country, governments are investing in efficiency. Motivated by budget crunches, scarce resources, service duplication and the desire to spur economic development, public officials are exploring consolidation, collaboration and other means to better serve their constituents. In this series, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) will highlight efforts to improve government efficiency. This installment focuses on Vernon Hills' efforts to efficiently manage stormwater.

For more than a year in the Taking Action Series, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has explored efforts to dissolve townships, share resources, consolidate services and coordinate contracts, all in the name of government efficiency. What unites these wide-ranging efforts is the discovery of creative ways to deliver services or provide amenities at lower costs. This common thread appears in a new form in Vernon Hills, one of the nominees for the 2014 Lake County Municipal League Innovation Award.

More than 10 years ago, the Village of Vernon Hills acquired land to promote the development of the Victory Centre, an affordable housing complex for the Village’s growing senior citizen population. However, the Village was also cognizant that the parcel and its surrounding areas were in serious need of a stormwater detention facility. The properties were located in the Des Plaines Watershed—a region that stretches from Will to Lake Counties along the Des Plaines River and, according to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, is burdened, on average, with more than $20 million dollars annually in stormwater damage—the highest annual cost in Northeastern Illinois.

Providing stormwater detention infrastructure posed significant challenges: Finding the revenue streams to finance a costly project was chief among them. But in negotiating the sale of the land in 2008, the Village underwrote part of the cost in exchange for the developer agreeing to build a stormwater facility that could be shared with nearby lots. Upon the project’s completion in 2012, a storage tank located underneath the Centre’s parking lot was equipped to capture rainwater from a large swath of neighboring properties, well beyond the boundaries of the actual development.

The shared facility reduced the cost to develop the surrounding properties by eliminating the need for each one to construct and maintain their own stormwater management systems. Underground stormwater management also frees up valuable aboveground space. As a result, robust public amenities sprung up in short walking distance to the Centre. The Aspen Drive Public Library, constructed in a vacant lot next door to the Centre after the shared stormwater planning was completed, could not have been built on the property if the Library District had to budget for the expenses of managing its stormwater alone. The Park District’s Sullivan Community and Family Aquatic Center was also close enough to take advantage of the shared facility—access that allowed taxpayer dollars to go to expanded recreational programming instead of duplicative stormwater infrastructure.

Despite the high capital costs of constructing the shared facility, these flourishing amenities justified the developers’ extra expense as they undoubtedly increased the facility’s appeal to future residents of the senior living home.

In this single project, Vernon Hills accomplished a great deal: It fulfilled two critical needs in the community—affordable senior assisted housing and stormwater management—and in doing so, lowered the costs to create and maintain public amenities for its residents—the library and community center.

As municipalities across the state continue to explore ways to achieve greater efficiency, Vernon Hills’ collaboration with a private stakeholder to provide amenities at lower costs can serve as an additional model, contributing new insights to the expanding realm of possibilities when it comes to government efficiency.

Curious about other initiatives around the Chicago region and beyond? Take a look at the rest of the Taking Action series.

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