The regulations, which would reduce the amount of pollution runoff allowed by real estate development, have been put on hold for another 30-day public comment period after receiving the necessary number of petitions.
The storm water rules are intended to prevent pollution in the Chesapeake Bay by requiring developers and home builders to reduce the amount of water flowing to the bay from impervious surfaces such as parking lots. They also encourage builders to use “green building” methods such as green roofs and grey water recycling to accomplish the pollution goals.
But the development community has resisted the new standards, which they say will make the costs of building prohibitive just as the industry is trying to recover from the recession.
Developers and associations submitted 25 letters petitioning changes made to the rules since the last public comment period in November. According to Gary Waugh, spokesman for the Department of Conservation and Recreation, that was enough to trigger a new comment period.
“According to the administrative process if you get 25 petitions the board is obligated to take some sort of action,” Waugh said.
The changes that were made were actually a compromise, increasing the amount of runoff allowed from the original .28 pounds per acre per year to .45 pounds per acre. At the time the board also opened the door for DCR to begin a new rule-making process to adjust the limit to match similar guidelines the federal Environmental Protection Agency plans to enact in the next few years.
Because the states rules are going back to public comment, that means they will have to afterwards return to the board for administrative review, and onto the Secretary of Natural Resources, and then to the desk of Governor Bob McDonnell.
“This will be the first time the new administration will formerly have the opportunity to weigh in on the issue,” said Waugh.
That may be good news for developers who oppose the rules, as McDonnell had been critical of the rules during his campaign.
The 25 petitioners include representatives of several Richmond area companies including HHHunt, Toll Brothers, Thalhimer Commercial Real Estate, Highmark Engineering, Lifestyle Builders, Baskervil and JH Martin and Sons.
Representatives from the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and Home Builders Association of Virginia also submitted letters requesting more time to comment on the rules.
Tyler Craddock, director of government affairs for the Virginia Chamber, said they he has concerns are about the science behind the rules.
“We are not convinced that the process to this point has allowed for a full scientific vetting of the regulations as proposed,” said Craddock, “We hope that additional consideration in this process will yield a final product that is based on sound science and gets the Commonwealth to point where we all want to be: a healthier Chesapeake Bay and cleaner water across Virginia.”
Barrett Hardiman, director of government affairs for the HBAV, said that he hopes the state ends up with regulation that benefits the Bay and addresses storm water and other sources of pollution in the most effective way possible.
“Our biggest concern as people move forward with trying to invest money and job creating activities in Virginia is that they aren’t going to be slowed down or driven away because there is not any certainty as to what the project will cost them,” said Hardiman.
Meanwhile environmental groups say the recent effort by the development community is disingenuous.
“The need to reduce phosphorous and nitrogen that is all based on an incredibly amount of Chesapeake Bay area science, cutting edge science frankly,” said Chuck Epes, spokesman for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Epes said the argument the regulations aren’t based on valid data and science has no merit.
“There is no question Virginia needs to reduce and better control storm water…the objections raised from the homebuilding and development industry we have felt are obstructionist,” said Epes, “They seem to want nothing but the status quo.”
Al Harris covers real estate for BizSense. Please send news tips to [email protected]