I feel compelled to propose a legislative plan of action specific to flood mitigation. This plan provides details on what I would do, today, if I was your Councilperson. I encourage your feedback and welcome your partnership to make this plan a reality.
Please tell me, what did I leave out? What can we do better than before, and sooner? When do we start? ❤️
I. Right now.
A. Fund an early warning flood alert system along the Hudson, Tiber and New Cut branches. Rain gauges already are in place. The County already paid for hydraulic modeling, too. Automate an early warning system based on those two inputs alone (adding reputable weather forecasts and stream channel sensors when possible) that will, under certain defined conditions, (a) sound a local siren/flashing lights and send an alert to every phone in the vicinity; and (b) activate County first-responders to clear people and cars from known floodways and to close roadways and parking lots to incoming traffic.
B. Vote on an emergency measure prohibiting new development building permits, plan approvals or waivers for six months.
• To verify that new development complies with current State and local land-use law. If plan approvals or waivers were granted in error, rescind them.
• To require Professional Engineer certification as to the projected flowrate and direction(s) of storm water runoff from each project site (1) prior to the proposed development; (2) under specified design conditions; and (3) at 100% overflow of designed storm water controls.
• To enact stronger storm water control management and environmental conservation laws.
II. Right after that.
A. Prioritize and fund flood mitigation projects with greatest cost-benefit impact, mandating that the County:
• Identify best candidate sites for flood mitigation and the full array of possible federal, state and local funding mechanisms to implement them.
• Prioritize daylighting stream beds, green infrastructure and public park placemaking, modeled after the climate-adapted parks utilized as part of the Marin (California) Watershed Program and at Copenhagen’s Enghaveparken by Third Nature.
• Identify private acreage along the length of known floodways, acquisition of which will be most strategically significant to overall watershed protection.
• Preserve the neighborhoods and streetscapes that long predate the development run-off that now threatens them
• Enlist expert, experienced input from entities beyond DPZ leadership and the usual local land-use interests.
B. Authorize an audit of DPZ.
• To determine whether required bases for DPZ leadership’s grant of waivers from environmental conservation and other requirements exist; whether effective dates for plan submissions and approvals comport with actual processing timelines and applicable law; and whether the plan and waiver approval process, generally, is subject to any undue or improper influence.
C. Vote on an emergency measure requiring that any new construction complies with existing law as it pertains to storm water management and environmental conservation (including buffers and setbacks). That is, there can be no more grandfathering in of old plans or redevelopment, or excusing infill development. Everything new complies with the same set of laws, no exception.
III. Going Forward.
A. Eliminate current loopholes in the County’s land-use law.
The County has demonstrated a long-standing willingness to approve all manner of Developer requests to be excused from land-use requirements that, if actually enforced, would have the effect of preserving green space. That discretion must be revoked.
• By deleting Section 16.604 of the Subdivision and Land Development Regulations, which authorizes DPZ to waive applicable State and county land-use requirements.
• By deleting Section 16.116(c) of the Subdivision and Land Development Regulations, which authorizes DPZ to allow Developers to build roadways, utilities and stormwater management facilities in wetlands, streams, wetland buffers, stream buffers and steep slopes. (A four-story, 133-unit age-restricted apartment building proposed at the intersection of Route 108 and Columbia Road (“Dorsey Overlook”), for example, relies on this particular loophole, thereby avoiding the need to secure a waiver via Section 16.604, above.)
• By deleting the availability of zoning variances to reduce required setbacks from adjoining properties and roadways, under Section 130.0.B.2.a of the Zoning Regulations.
B. Enact stronger storm water management law.
• To add storm water infrastructure into APFO consideration.
• To increase storm water drainage fees assessed new development.
• To address present-day precipitation.
• To protect downstream properties.
• To incorporate Best Management Practices.
• To incentivize residential and commercial participation in low-impact lawn programs, leaning on existing resident experts like the Howard County Watershed Stewards.
C. Enact stronger forest conservation law.
• To enhance both individual tree and forest canopy conservation requirements.
• To require 1:1 replacement ratio.
• To build, connect and maintain natural corridors and hubs (what the County already terms its “Green Infrastructure Network”).
• To widen and plant buffers around natural and man-made stream beds and wetlands.
• To widen and plant buffers from adjacent properties and roadways.
• To require that further assessments of existing on-site tree and forest resources and conservation plans be performed by an independent consulting arborist.
• To eliminate fees paid in lieu of compliance, or swapping re-forestation efforts off site.
• To establish target forest cover goals by neighborhood.
D. Lower annual housing allocations permitted new development.
E. Change criteria for open-space preservation (e.g., lower acreage, adjacency requirements) so that more properties, particularly on the east side of the County, qualify.
• Task County regulators with identifying best candidate properties for conservation, County-wide, building into the Green Infrastructure Network.