by Wesley Ratko

Managing stormwater runoff – the practice of controlling the rain water that flows off streets and other paved surfaces – was the central topic of discussion at the May meeting of the Land Use Planning and Zoning committee last night.

Prompted by a proposal brought before the committee last month to seek funding for a project to control runoff at the Water Tower Recreation Center behind Ardleigh Street, the committee expanded its discussion and revisited a process that began in 2009.

It was then that former committee member Harriet Brumberg lead an ad hoc committee created by the CHCA board to seek input from the community on behalf of the Philadelphia Water Department. The water department had grant money from the Environmental Protection Agency to fund stormwater management projects and was looking for locations in the 19118 ZIP code that are prone to flooding.

After consulting with property owners from all over Chestnut Hill, Brumberg’s group decided on three locations – at Germantown Avenue and Winston Road, along Lincoln Drive, and the back yards and alley along the West Highland Avenue parking lot, known as Parking Foundation Lot 6.

The Winston Road site features a lot of paved area that is impervious to rain water and results in the most runoff. The committee said there also existed the possibility of implementing traffic calming measures at the intersection, which would help in slowing down the speed of traffic along Winston Road.

Lincoln Drive has always seen a lot of erosion and runoff during storms. While several neighbors suggested that West Springfield Avenue was the source of the rain water along Lincoln Drive, a primary solution proposed was to narrow the roadway to reduce the amount of paved surface.

It was the Parking Foundation’s Lot #6 along Highland Avenue that garnered the most attention Thursday night. Rain water from the parking lot runs into the alley and into the backyards of the houses along adjacent West Evergreen Avenue.

“So where do we pick up?” asked committee member John Haak.

“The higher up on the hill we start getting water back into the ground, the better,” said committee member Larry McEwen.

Committee member Jean McCoubrey referred LUPZ members to the correspondence between the CHCA and the water department from 2009, paraphrasing water department’s response as saying “don’t expect anything to happen quickly.”

But while these three sites were submitted to the water department, no formal application for funding or improvement was ever made.

Committee member John Landis said the latest deadline for applications accepted by the water department was still several months away – January or February of next year – adding that there is still plenty of time to learn more about the process and prepare a proper application for grant funding.

Committee member Andrew Moroz suggested that the runoff from private parking lots onto public streets added to the “water department’s burden” of stormwater treatment and that before pushing for a project to address the Lincoln Drive flooding a more thoughtful strategy would be to focus on fixing the private elements (i.e. the parking lot) first.

McEwen pointed out the difference between Parking Lot #6 at West Highland and Lincoln Drive as public versus private space.

“The mandate of the water department is to work with commercial property owners,” McEwen said.

He added that a focus of any effort should be the parking lots, and that because the lighting of those lots is in violation of the zoning code, any project to address runoff could also address issues with the lighting.

While the committee took no formal action Thursday, they did agree that follow-up with Ardleigh resident Robin Spilner – whose presentation at the April meeting is what prompted the discussion in the first place – would occur within the next few weeks.

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