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Council adopts new stormwater rules

Tuesday, November 1, 2022 by Jo Clifton

After considerable delay and discussion, City Council finally approved new environmental regulations related to drainage, landscaping and green stormwater infrastructure on Thursday. Mackenzie Kelly was the only Council member to vote no, and Natasha Harper-Madison was off the dais. Last week’s vote had been postponed from Oct. 14 to give Council more time to consider it.

According to a memo from Watershed Protection Department staff, the new regulations would, among other things, “require green stormwater controls, such as biofiltration ponds, rain gardens, rainwater harvesting, etc., for sites with less than 90 percent impervious cover, except for sites meeting certain conditions.” The rules would allow an administrative variance option for constrained sites.

A more detailed explanation of the new rules is available online.

Council Member Chito Vela introduced the only point of contention on the item with amendments offering the possibility of additional administrative variances for development that might otherwise be required to meet the infrastructure regulations. Council members Leslie Pool and Ann Kitchen spoke against adopting those amendments as part of this year’s regulations, but argued that they could be part of amendments to be considered next year in phase two of adopting the regulations.

Vela expressed concern that the environmental rules would cost money and possibly mean fewer housing units. “We’re not considering the affordability impacts of this measure today,” he said. “We’re aware that this is going to cost units, but we’ll deal with that sometime down the road. I don’t think that’s a good approach to take.”

When the matter finally came up for a vote, Council Member Kathie Tovo and Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter voted against Vela’s amendments, even though they will not take effect for another year. Pool described the administrative variance as having a “delayed trigger” which she said ensures  Council will act on that point in “phase two.”

City Environmental Officer Katie Coyne told Council city code already allows for a number of administrative variances which might be used by developers. She did not recommend adding more language to that effect.

A staff memo about the green stormwater infrastructure amendment points out that the same amendment was previously proposed as part of the Land Development Code revision, which did not move forward because of a lawsuit.  The suit was related to zoning and did not address the new environmental regulations, but Council had to adopt them again because the votes to adopt the new code were invalidated.

David Foster, former executive director of Clean Water Action, spoke to Council as a volunteer for the group. He noted that the green stormwater infrastructure and functional green package had been under consideration for a number of years, with considerable time spent on it by staff, Council and the community. “This is not a new thing,” he said.

“One of the reasons I’d like to see you pass it today is because come January, (there will be) new Council members and the mayor and we’ll lose institutional knowledge around these issues, and the unintended consequence of that may be that this gets delayed, if it ever happens at all,” he said.

Other speakers also urged Council to adopt the green infrastructure regulations, which were blessed by the Environmental, Planning, and Zoning and Platting commissions.

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