Skirting stormwater rules

A plan for a shopping center in Baltimore's Remington neighborhood fails a key environmental test

September 14, 2010|By Tina Carroll

For residents involved in legislation regarding Baltimore's proposed 25th Street Station shopping center, the process has been a disappointing one.

There was the promise that "this is not a done deal," but during community presentations by the developers, the tone was one of "here's what we've done" rather than "here's what we can do for you." Communication from Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, in whose district the 25th Street Station project is proposed, has been poor. Residents living within a walkable distance of the site, but whose neighborhood is not named "Remington," have been deemed persona non grata by the councilwoman and ignored. And finally, site plan concerns raised about the complex fell on deaf ears at an August Planning Commission hearing. After four-plus hours of testimony, the commission voted unanimously, without deliberation, to approve zoning changes and move the project forward.

With this in mind, there is an urgent need in the 11th hour to bring attention to an issue that has received little scrutiny. The primary environmental site design feature for the 11-acre site, the green roof atop the proposed Walmart, is insufficient to satisfy current local and state laws regarding sustainable development. As a result the project appears to be failing in its methods for stormwater management under current law.

Stormwater management is an especially important concern for development within close proximity to our waterways and, in particular here, the Chesapeake Bay. Stormwater runoff is generated when rain and snowmelt flows over impervious surfaces and is not filtered by the earth. Runoff collects debris, chemicals, sediment and pollutants and transports it directly, unfiltered, to storm drains and the nearest waterways. The design plan for the 25th Street Station includes paving over the majority of the 11 acre site and does not appear to contain enough pervious surface area to adequately manage stormwater runoff under the current law.

This issue was brought up at the planning commission hearing but was disregarded out of hand on the basis that the project had been "grandfathered" in under the old requirements. While it is true that provisions exist under the Maryland's 2007 Stormwater Management Act in which waivers can be administered by local agencies to projects that have received preliminary approval, but have yet to be realized, the 25th Street Station is not appropriate to be considered for such a waiver.

The development team was well aware of the 2007 stormwater law when they created their project's design. The lawyer for the project, Jon Laria, is the chairman of the Task Force on the Future for Growth and Development in Maryland and has conducted forums on stormwater management. On September 2nd, Mr. Laria was also appointed chairman of the Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission. You would think that Mr. Laria would aid the developers in creating a model sustainable project for the City of Baltimore. Instead he appears to be using his expertise to help his team skirt the law.

When a copy of the stormwater management waiver was requested from the Baltimore Department of Public Works, the DPW responded that this project does not have an approved waiver, and to date a waiver has not been requested.

Waiver or no waiver, by not adhering to current stormwater management standards, this project is not "LEED certifiable," as required by Baltimore's green building standards. According to the United States Green Building Council LEED 2009 minimum requirements, new construction "must comply with applicable federal, state and local building-related environmental laws and regulations in place where the project is located."

The last hope for resolution of this issue is at Wednesday's City Council Land Use and Transportation Committee hearing. I hope committee members will require compliance of current stormwater regulations and LEED certification for the passing of the plan for the 25th Street Station. Otherwise they will be an accomplice in rendering the developers immune to current city and state environmental regulations.

Tina Carroll runs Baltidome, a green site for Baltimore residents, and the Baltidome Green News Blog. Her e-mail is info@baltidome.com.

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