Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 51
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
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Weather Forecast

Environment, Property Rights Affected as Borough Adopts Stormwater Code

Matthew Hersh

Complying with a 2004 mandate handed down from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, Princeton Borough Council last week voted to adopt a code viewed by environmentalists as the most sweeping effort in 20 years to protect water quality and preserve drinking water supplies.

The move follows Princeton Township’s 2005 adoption of a similar code after the Regional Planning Board of Princeton included the mandate in the Princeton Community Master Plan, also in early 2005.

The thrust of the DEP order requires towns to create an ordinance that would enforce builders and the municipality to abide by the new requirements that were designed to prevent increases in flood damage to property, safety, and public health by lowering water runoff levels; encouraging groundwater recharge using methods like an increase in soil permeability; reducing pollution; controlling erosion; and preserving natural drainage patterns. Municipalities will be able to fine violators of the regulations.

A signature component of the new code immediately impacts so-called major developments or projects that disturb one or more acres of land or that lead to an increase of impervious surface by 400 square feet or more. Any Borough project affected by the code would be required to meet its provisions, first by incorporating nonstructural stormwater management into the project design, and, if those measures prove insufficient, by implementing structural stormwater management measures until the requirements are met.

For developments that disturb less than one acre but increase impervious surfaces by 400 square feet, a builder would be required to minimize land disturbance, including the employment of measures like clearing and grading.

The ordinance also stipulates that a proposed development contain site design features that would help to prevent the accumulation of trash and debris in drainage systems, and to prevent spills of pollutants at industrial and commercial developments.

There were concerns raised, however, regarding the potential impact on a small property owner. Councilman David Goldfarb worried that the ordinance had larger projects in mind, and neglected smaller improvements.

“We have tried to graft on to [this ordinance] an applicability to small projects, and when read literally, the requirements to small development projects are extremely onerous,” Mr. Goldfarb said, pointing specifically to the code’s stormwater runoff quantity control requirements that include providing proof that no residual building would affect points downstream.

There is a waiver process at the discretion of the municipal engineering department, but, according to Mr. Goldfarb, “even if you can do that successfully, the waiver process is somewhat arbitrary on the part of the engineer” if everything is not satisfied. Mr. Goldfarb suggested that the small projects be removed from the ordinance and that the Borough devise other schematics for addressing them.

Borough engineer Chris Budzinski admitted that the stormwater ordinance did not separate large projects from small but said that “our hope is that as homeowners come in, we’ll be able to walk through the code with the homeowner and make the process not as onerous.”

A year-and-a-half has passed since the state’s suggested ordinance adoption date of April 1, 2006, a point not lost on Borough administrator Robert Bruschi, who urged Council’s support of the code.

Council approved the measure, five votes in favor, to Mr. Goldfarb’s one vote in dissent.

Susan Charkes, an environmental planning specialist with the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, praised Council for implementing the state’s stormwater mandates, saying, “small changes add up to big deals.”

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