Though town commissioners unanimously approved the Swansgate subdivision’s preliminary plat, working through the process prompted them to look into how Swansboro grants approval for developments that might generate stormwater runoff. In this case, the town planning board, which voted unanimously to grant plat approval, also handed up three recommendations, or “conditions” for approval. While the commissioners agreed on the first two, the third, “Completion of a study by the town’s Public Works Department or designee on the impact to the town’s stormwater infrastructure from the proposed Swansgate subdivision development,” did not. Swansboro does not require a public hearing to consider a preliminary plat, which is generally the developer’s concept of the project relative to zoning compliance, access, buffers and parks, permits and recreation fees as well as stormwater treatment. But this item did draw a comment. At the May 28 meeting of the town commissioner, during the portion of the agenda reserved for public comment, Laurent Meilleur, a member of the town planning board, detailed in a PowerPoint presentation why he believes the stormwater study is important. He tied the study to Swansgate. “I have concerns about Swansgate,” he said as he opened the presentation, “ and the town’s control over stormwater, or lack thereof.” “Elevations are changed such that additional stormwater will channel to Main Street Extension/Mt. Pleas-ant Road,” he stated in the presentation. The runoff will impact state stormwater systems but also the town’s. Meilleur said that the owner of a home at the foot of Mt. Pleasant Road, the area where the town maintains a culvert to handle runoff from the area, told him water has backed up at that ditch and reached the edge of his home. “Adding several acres of impervious surface to this area, you can imagine what will happen,” Meilleur said. A study of the stormwater system will shed light on what he calls the “unknowns.” These include systems that are close to being overloaded, how much runoff each system can handle and how new development will affect the system. “Without knowing this … you are operating with unknown risks,” Meilleur said. Swansgate representatives appeared before the town planning board twice before a recommendation was granted. Meilluer pointed out in the presentation that the engineer declined to provide details on how much runoff might result from the project. Instead, the engineer said he would meet DOT requirements for permit ap-proval. Swansgate representatives pointed out that the town’s review requirements fall under the state thus a state stormwater permit is all that is required. Meilleur posed two questions, essentially: If the development contributes to flooding downhill, would affected property owners have legal recourse against the developer or the town? In conclusion he suggested the town fund an independent study of the development and its potential for stormwater problems. While citizen comments don’t usually result in an immediate response from the board of commissioners, Mayor John Davis did address Meilleur. “I really appreciate how you study an issue,” Davis said. However, the fact that he is a member of the planning board and the fact that he has attached the request to a specific development, are causes for concern. Of Meilleur being a town official, Davis indicated that is an issue, “We’re in the office, it comes with the territory.” And, he added, “You are attaching a certain development. It’s really my concern.” But, the mayor also said that he did not disagree with Meilleur’s points. During discussion on the request for the Swansgate plat approval, other members of the board also indicated a willingness to consider the town’s position in terms of providing adequate stormwater control. Jason Houston, an engineer with Parker and Associates, represented Swansgate. On a question from commissioner Phil Keagy, he said the state had notified him that day that the development’s stormwater permit had been approved and was on the way. “They are close to the end of the 90 days,” Houston said, an apparent reference to the time the state has to review a request for stormwater treatment. When Davis asked if other board members had questions, Commissioner Frank Tursi said the obvious effect of the development would be an increase in the amount of runoff directed to Swansboro Loop Road down to Main Street Extension. He also said the state’s handling of this type of development is a matter of routine, with little available at this stage for the town to review. “We have nothing to go on here,” Tursi said. “Is there anything you can do or have done to reduce the flow coming from that site?” he asked Houston. He mentioned rain gardens as a one possibility. Houston indicated there are no such plans. “We’re doing exactly what is required,” Houston said. While the commissioners were unanimous in voting to approve the plat, Tursi pointed out that the state stormwater permit process requires little more than a pledge from a developer that plans would be followed. “He’s going to get the permit,” Tursi said of Swansgate. Tursi also explained that the only guarantee that the stormwater plan submitted by the developer are followed is a signed letter from an engineer, that isn’t due until the project is compete. According to Christy L. Simmons, public information officer with the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, in the case of a stormwater permit the developer or his engineer will determine whether the project is in compliance with the permitted plans. She then lists certain steps developer must take … “If the permittee determines that the project is in com-pliance with the permitted plans, then within 45 days of completion, the permittee shall submit to the division one hard copy and one electronic copy of the following: • The completed and signed Designer’s Certification … noting any deviations from the approved plans and specifications. Deviations may require approval from the Division; • A copy of the recorded maintenance agreement; • Unless already provided, a copy of the recorded deed restrictions and protective covenants; and • A copy of the recorded plat delineating the public rights-ofway, dedicated common areas and/or perma-nent recorded easements, when applicable. In the case of discrepancies, Simmons points out in an email, “the permittee determines (if) the project is not in compliance with the permitted plans.” In that case, “the permittee shall submit an application to modify the permit within 30 days of completion of the project or provide a plan of action, with a timeline, to bring the site into compliance.” After giving the commissioners a brief version of these rules, Tursi said under this format a certificate of occupancy is likely to be issued by the town before the stormwater plan is certified. Also, he said there did not seem to be a mechanism for penalizing a developer that goes awry. “Who would you go after, the engineer?” Tursi asked. “Would the state do that?” With a nod toward Houston, Tursi made it clear that he was not singling out Houston or Swansgate. Instead, he was hoping for a way the town could improve the process. He asked Jim Stipe, code enforcement officer, if the stormwater permit is considered in granting a CO. Stipe said it is not. Called to the podium for an opinion, Andrea Correll, town planner, said, “I suggest that we tie it to a final plat approval. It’s not something we could tie to a CO.” She said the requirement could be included in the plat approval process through a text amendment of the town’s Unified Development Ordnance. With Houston still in the audience, Tursi pointed out that any change like that would not have an affect on the Swansgate development process. Houston did say that the building in a development such as Swansgate might go on before completion of the project. That allows homes to be built before roads are finished and paved. His point was, “We don’t certify stormwater devices until the are built.” Correll said that is allowed under the town’s final plat approval process, it’s just that no property can be sold until the final plat is approved. After looking around the board table, Davis said that appeared to be consensus and he tasked the planning board to look into the process and propose a text amendment. As discussion wrapped up, Commissioner Roy Herrick asked Davis if the town could take a look at the town’s stormwater infrastructure. In an interview after the meeting, Herrick said he believes the town stormwater devices are inadequate. He said he would like that study by an independent engineer to begin following the town’s adoption of the budget for 2019-20. That must be done by July 1. Email Jimmy Williams at email@example.com.
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