When Chapter 9 of the Infrastructure Design Manual on Stormwater was released after 2 years of haranguing between the City of Houston (COH) Public Works and Engineering (PW&E), the Houston Builders Association (HBA), the Super Neighborhood Alliance (SNA), and Andy Ichen and Steven Costello, we were disappointed that some of the pieces we had worked so hard to get added had been dropped by Dale Rudick, new PW&E director. Imagine our surprise to find that the first sentence of 9.02.c had been changed with no warning, no review, apparently by Andy Ichen some time after publishing.
Prior to the change the section read as follows:
9.02.C. Overland Run-off (Sheet Flow): Proposed New Development, Redevelopment, or In-fill Development shall not alter existing overland flow patterns and shall not increase or redirect existing Sheet Flow to adjacent private or public property. Sheet Flow from the developed property shall discharge only to the abutting public right-of-way. Where the existing Sheet Flow pattern is blocked by construction (i.e. raising the site elevation) of the Development, the Sheet Flow shall be re-routed within the developed property to return flow to original configuration or to the public right-of-way. Except under special circumstances dictated by natural drainage patterns, no Sheet Flow from the developed property will be allowed to drain onto adjacent private property.
Now it reads:
9.02.C. Proposed New Development or Redevelopment greater than 1 acre shall not alter existing overland flow patterns and shall not increase or redirect existing sheet flow to adjacent private or public property. Sheet flow from the developed property shall discharge only to the abutting public R.O.W. Where the existing sheet flow pattern is blocked by construction (i.e. raising the site elevation) of the Development, the sheet flow shall be re-routed within the developed property to return flow to original configuration or to the public R.O.W. Except under special circumstances dictated by natural drainage patterns, no sheet flow from the developed property will be allowed to drain onto adjacent private property.
This subtle change serves to protect the City from lawsuits from one property owner to another after raised property causes flooding of nearby structures. It allows developers of in-fill tracts less than an acre to elevate their property to avoid flooding and not be concerned that the City will do anything to prevent them. The subtlety is that in court the City can claim that its policy doesn’t say anything about allowing properties to be elevated – it simply defines allowed actions for properties greater than one acre because these obviously cause more damage. The fallacy is that the overwhelming majority of single family residential properties are less than one acre, so the effect in aggregate far exceeds the effect of large lot properties.
More subtle is that feuding homeowners, convinced that a neighboring elevated property is responsible for their flooding, will overlook the large development nearby that raised an entire tract of land a foot or more without adding detention. This obfuscation is malicious, and the offending wording needs to be removed, but it underlines our assertion that the COH is working to intentionally flood neighborhoods – particularly older neighborhoods – in order to cause redevelopment.
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