Interviews reveal that stormwater requirements don’t impede development

By Shannon Madden

If you’ve ever stood on the shores of Lake Zurich, you know how beautiful and clean the water is. And since you’re an avid WOWW reader, you also know that surface water quality is directly related to the stormwater that runs off into lakes and rivers. So as the Village of Lake Zurich plans to redevelop its downtown, you might wonder how the construction associated with a revitalized Main Street will impact the lake.

Luckily, Village leadership is asking the same important question. With technical assistance from the Metropolitan Planning Council and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the Village is considering options to protect the lake – beyond Lake County’s Watershed Development Ordinance – while at the same time encouraging redevelopment. Yet sometimes developers and residents wonder if enhanced stormwater requirements end up hindering redevelopment.

That’s the question that ECONorthwest tackled in a recent study, Managing Stormwater in Redevelopment and Greenfield Development Projects Using Green Infrastructure, commissioned by American Rivers and Smart Growth America with support from the Center for Neighborhood Technology, River Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“The findings show that clean water and urban redevelopment are compatible,” according to American Rivers’ website. That’s good news for municipalities trying to both attract development and protect their water resources.

Communities like those surrounding Lake Zurich, shown here, will be glad to know that tough stormwater requirements don't deter developers. (Metropolitan Planning Council)

Communities like those around Lake Zurich, shown here, will be glad to know that tough stormwater requirements don’t deter developers. (Metropolitan Planning Council)

Interviews with key public officials and developers in three jurisdictions with strong stormwater regulations – Montgomery Co., Md., Olympia, Wash. and Philadelphia, Pa. – revealed that, in general, stormwater ordinances do not deter investment. Developers reported that they “will continue developing in places that require strong stormwater controls and [low-impact development].”

Developers also said that the costs of meeting stormwater requirements are often less important than other economic considerations, and that the lower cost of green infrastructure (relative to other stormwater controls like detention basins) can actually offset the costs of compliance. Best management practices like native rain gardens and bioswales (engineered slopes with amended soils, native plants and drains to capture excess runoff) may also increase property values. Where market demand exists, properties with best management practices may have greater market appeal than properties without green infrastructure.

Because green infrastructure’s benefits extend to the broader public by beautifying the community and reducing combined sewer overflows, some developers are looking to communities to offset implementation costs. So while the interviews revealed that stormwater requirements don’t discourage investment, additional financial incentives might attract more economic redevelopment in communities like Lake Zurich.  This mutually beneficial relationship can potentially strengthen the local economy while protecting a valued natural resource.

Stay tuned for future green developments as Lake Zurich’s downtown revitalization unfolds!

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