This story first ran in the Chesterfield Observer.
The state government is seeking to reduce the amount of phosphorous runoff allowed by new developments, a measure that could limit the scope of new construction projects if it becomes law.
If implemented, the lower standard would make business growth more expensive because developers would have to reduce the amount of runoff produced by their property, and it would likely require more land to do so.
The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) proposed reducing the current allowable amount of phosphorous nearly in half, from 0.45 pounds per acre each year to 0.28 pounds.
Developers will incur added engineering costs and may need to buy more land to build retention ponds and drainage systems. Or they could use more permeable surfaces in their design by adding a “green roof” —basically a rooftop garden that absorbs rainwater. Either way, the requirements will make new development more costly.
Retail and office parks would be particularly hard hit because of the amount of impervious surfaces: namely, parking lots and rooftops. The new rules could affect several major projects in the works, such as Watkins Centre in Chesterfield County.
“There’s a good likelihood that the 2 million square feet we have zoned for office space at the Watkins Centre will be reduced by half or more,” said state Sen. John Watkins, whose family has owned the land where the mixed-use centre is to be built.
Though the Watkins Centre already has zoning approved for office and office/warehouse in the southwest quadrant of routes 288 and Route 60, it would need permits from the state for storm-water runoff. The same is true for other already zoned property in the county that hasn’t been developed yet.
Watkins chairs a work group on environmental standards and building codes as part of the Virginia Housing Commission.
“I’ve asked the DCR to give us a complete briefing on the regulations, what the rationale is, the cost benefit and tell us how it is justified,” said Watkins. “I don’t think you’ll be able to build a high school in Chesterfield if these standards are imposed.”
According to Gary Waugh, public relations manager of DCR, the department is responding to the Environmental Protection Agency’s demand for new regulations that require less water runoff.
Phosphorous runoff occurs when rainfall hits rooftops, parking lots, driveways and other impervious surfaces and flows into waterways instead of being absorbed naturally into the ground. Lawn fertilizers are common culprits for increasing phosphorous runoff.
Phosphorous and other nutrients like nitrogen make their way to the bay and feed huge algae blooms. The algae blooms deplete oxygen in the water creating expansive “dead zones” where other aquatic life cannot live. The pollution not only threatens the livelihood of Virginia’s watermen, but also the future ecological health of the bay and its tributaries.
The General Assembly authorized a review five years ago, and a Technical Advisory Committee – including members from the business community and the home-building industry – recommended the lower standard.
“Not all members of the committee agreed with the 0.28 recommendation,” said Waugh. “We believe it is achievable.”
After reviewing comments from the public, DCR will send the proposed regulations to the Department of Planning and Budget for more review. Then the regulations go to the secretary of natural resources and finally to the governor sometime next year.
The proposed statewide regulations are designed to protect the Chesapeake Bay even though just 60 percent of the rivers and streams in the state flow there. Waugh says that’s because so much scientific study has been done on the bay.
“It could be argued that some basins in the western part of the state are more sensitive than the Chesapeake Bay,” Waugh said.
All of Chesterfield County drains to the bay. According to data last year, there was general agreement that the Swift Creek Reservoir is in good health with phosphorous levels trending downward. Business proponents have pointed to that data as proof the existing standards are working well.
Though the current state standard is 0.45 pounds, local governments can lower that amount. Chesterfield previously reduced the standard to .22 for residential development in the upper Swift Creek watershed to protect the reservoir as a source of drinking water. The standard for commercial development stayed at 0.45 pounds.
Chesterfield has been pushing for more commercial development to balance its tax base. Both commercial and residential properties are taxed at the same rate, but residential development requires more services — like schools — so commercial development subsidizes the needs of residents. Chesterfield’s tax rate of 95 cents per $100 of assessed value is 10 cents higher than Henrico County’s, largely because Henrico has more retail shopping and office parks.
Planning Commission Chairman Russell Gulley, who has a long history of protecting the Swift Creek Reservoir, expressed concern at last month’s commission meeting about the lower standard.
“I think the 0.28 for residential is doable,” he said last week, “but there will be higher costs for the development community. There would be an adverse impact on commercial development, but I haven’t heard from those stakeholders. It certainly will have a negative impact on economic development.”
The Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board will hold five public hearings statewide between June 30 and July 14 to gather public input. The Richmond area meeting will be on July 14 at 7 p.m. at the Virginia General Assembly Building, 910 Capitol St., Senate Room B.
Greg Pearson runs the Chesterfield Observer, which is an RBS News Partner.
The elimination of phosporous and nitrogen in the Bay would be more successful if the legislature would focus its attention on the two major culprits– fertilizer users, such as suburban lawn growers and golf course manicurers, and the farmers. Developers are an easy target, but there is very little evidence that runoff from commercial uses such as shopping centers and office parks are doing the damage. Better still, in this time of stimulus dollars for research, one would think that the ultimate solution is to design a device that can eliminate phosphorous effectively. If we can measure it accurately, then… Read more »
This should have happened a while ago. We need smarter growth. MORE GREEN ROOFS!
Incredible how much mis-information (or missing information) is being offered about the proposed rules. Yes it will lower the allowable load from developed land; Yes it will cost more for development to comply with a tougher standard. And yes, EPA is pushing the Bay states to do a better job of protecting water quality, and urban runoff is one piece of that strategy. However, along with the tougher rules are better standards for compliance. Everyone has been jumping on the Low Impact Development (LID) or Green Infrastructure band wagon without any idea how to implement it effectively or measure compliance.… Read more »
Swift Creek Reservoir was measured in a drought when the statement was made that Phosphorous was not increasing. Less water flowing over the ground into the reservoir meant the measurements were unusually low. The other reason that phosphorus measurements were too high in Swift Creek Reservoir is that Brandermill was developed with a large percentage of the trees left standing. This is one of the LID techniques that developers can use to meet LID Standards. Brandermill houses are very valuable because of the many trees. Most people who build a house for them selves ask for trees to be left… Read more »