WILMINGTON—City staff are proposing to scrap stormwater redevelopment standards after hearing pushback from developers.
According to city staff, Wilmington’s stormwater regulations, adopted in 2009, have created “unintended challenges” for developers. A staff report argues that regulations have effectively disincentivized redevelopment projects that build in and up – using dense, vertical construction – as opposed to sprawling outwards.
With just ten percent of property in the city available for redevelopment, the city’s policy has been to encourage inward and upward development.
RELATED: How city code allows Wilmington to grow as impervious surfaces increase
Scrapping stormwater requirements
Impervious surfaces are defined as those which do not allow the natural absorption of rainwater – most building and paving material falls into this category. The city regulates the ratio of impervious to absorptive surfaces because when excess rainwater runs off properties it can carry pollutants with it, damaging nearby watersheds.
Current city codes require developers to bring projects into full compliance with all stormwater guidelines if the total new impervious surface area – including redeveloped land where impervious surfaces already existed – exceeds more than 50 percent of the lot’s coverage. In other words, if more than half of the development is covered in buildings, parking areas, and other impervious surfaces, developers are no longer grandfathered into the lot’s existing stormwater design.
Prepared by Christine Hughes, the city’s senior planner, the staff report outlining the proposed amendment was informed in part by negative feedback from developers.
“We’ve heard a lot of pushback related to redevelopment,” Hughes said. “This attempts to level the playing field.”
Though initially established to benefit and improve water quality in 2009, Wilmington’s staff found the language of the 50 percent stormwater requirement to be “hindering” for redevelopment projects. Wilmington’s Planning Commission will review an amendment on July 11 to remove that language.
The proposed amendment deletes the following sentence from the Land Development Code:
“Whenever the modification results in placement of newly constructed impervious surface over any existing surface such that the newly constructed impervious area equals or exceeds fifty (50) percent of the total impervious surface area, then the entire site shall be required to comply with this article,” Section 18-735(b)4 states.
Impervious in Wilmington
Though the report suggests the 50 percent requirement does not affect many redevelopment projects, it also states the code has acted as a disincentive for developers to maximize land use.
“You’re effectively being penalized for putting in a new impervious surface even though it was already impervious,” Hughes said. “There may be totally vacant and abandoned buildings or maybe just underutilized, but they may not have gone forward with the development with the site because the stormwater requirements felt onerous for them.”
In 2016, the city identified 5,800 acres of potentially “redevelopable” land that could accommodate the region’s expected growth. These sites include areas where land value is greater than structure value, building lot coverage is less than 10 percent and parking lot coverage is greater than 50 percent.
Still, the city of Wilmington is covered by approximately 28 percent impervious surface area. When impervious surface area exceeds just 10 percent, water quality in surrounding wetlands streams and lakes is negatively impacted, according to the city’s own Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan.
At 25 percent impervious surface coverage, the plan finds that waterways are no longer able to support healthy aquatic systems.
Wilmington’s code places a maximum impervious surface area requirement in the Watershed Protection Area at 75 percent, given the project has submitted an exceptional design narrative. Hughes said the Watershed Protection Area regulation would supersede the elimination of the 50 percent requirement.
“We have a code that was written in the 80s when we had a lot of land available,” Hughes said. “Our code really incentives and makes it easier to build out instead of inward and upward.”
If the code change is approved by the Planning Commission Wednesday, it will head to City Council on Aug. 7.
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