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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Developer-friendly, environmentally harmful rule governing construction sites likely to continue

Posted By on Tue, Aug 12, 2014 at 4:59 PM

A policy leftover from the Great Recession that encourages development and redevelopment in Charlotte but potentially harms the environment will likely remain until 2019, five years past its initial expiration date.

In 2007, the city adopted the Post-Construction Stormwater Ordinance that requires stormwater management systems around construction sites, such as retention ponds and parking lots with permeable areas to take in runoff, to keep pollutants from entering Charlotte’s already distressed streams and creeks. But the ordinance doesn’t apply to what the city has deemed “distressed business districts” to encourage development in slower parts of town, allowing developers to pay a fee — about $60,000 per impervious acre, or any land that cannot absorb rainfall — in lieu of installing controls. In 2011, City Council expanded the fee option to the entire city until 2014 to encourage development during the recession.

At the behest of City Council, city staff took six months to review the policy and will present their findings to the Council's environment committee on Wednesday. They will likely recommend extending the citywide fee for another five years, citing advantages that include “predictability for developers.”

If the committee endorses the measure, it will go before a Council-wide vote sometime in the fall. A single vote on Council could kill it altogether if it's taken up before October, thanks to a law recently passed in the General Assembly that allots such power during municipal discussions of environmental controls.

Some argue the benefits of the fee. The money collected goes into watershed projects intended to control pollution. “That’s a good thing,” says Councilman and environment committee chairman John Autry. However, "the problem is that the water remains impaired from the point of pollution ... so the little stream that turns behind your house could not be a safe place for your pets to wade into.”

In June, the Catawba Riverkeeper, Sustain Charlotte and other environmental and sustainability minded groups sent a letter to the city asking that the fee not be extended. “Especially in the case of the citywide in-lieu fee, the justification of economic crisis has passed. We are no longer in a recession, and Charlotte is a booming city ripe with development.” Indeed, Charlotte’s development community is the primary supporter of the extension.

Ten projects took advantage of the fee once it was made available to the entire city, including McDonald’s and a bank. The letter’s authors argue the projects would have happened regardless of whether the fee was an option.

“Location is the primary driver for projects. If the people and traffic exist in an area and will bring business, then a project will happen there; they will not simply choose a greenfield site that does not have the same opportunities for customers. This is especially applicable for the projects that have utilized the fee.”

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